ITV's Green Sacrificed to Appease US Investment Bank

23 October 2003

Reminiscent of December 1994 when Chicago fund manager David Herro surgically separated the sibling Saatchis from the agency that bore their name, a latterday American investment bank guru has toppled one of Britain's top TV luminaries, Michael Green.

Green, chairman of Carlton Communications and chairman designate of ITV plc, the company soon to be formed by Carlton's merger with TV peer Granada, fell victim to a long campaign of stalking by the so-called "silent assassin" aka Anthony Bolton, London fund manager for Cincinnati-headquartered Fidelity Investments.

As early as July Bolton was trawling the corridors of media and finance companies to seek a chairman more to Fidelity's liking [WAMN: 15-Jul-03]. Over the ensuing months Bolton recruited other institutional investors to his cause, intensifying the pressure on the boards of Carlton and Granada to dump Green.

This week he succeeded: Granada capitulated on Monday after intensive shareholder pressure; while Carlton directors, undermined by their counterparts' cave-in, bowed to the inevitable on Tuesday. The Carlton statement read …

"The Board of Carlton Communications plc announces that it will be giving an undertaking to Fidelity and other shareholders accepting their request that an independent non-executive chairman from outside Carlton and Granada should be appointed chairman designate of ITV plc to take on that role on the completion of the merger expected early in 2004.

"Michael Green as chairman together with the board of Carlton Communications plc remain committed to the completion of the merger and intend to play a full and active role in this process. Listing Particulars will be sent to shareholders in due course."

But one big mystery remains unanswered. Why Bolton's determination to get Green - and Green alone?

Many investors, and certainly Fidelity, hold him responsible for the ITV Digital fiasco two years ago, a collapse that extracted over £1 billion ($1.68bn; €1.44bn) from the wallets of investors. But others, including Granada chairman Charles Allen, were equally culpable. Yet the latter survives as ITV chief executive designate.

Some observers believe the key to the conundrum lies in the incompatibility between an eventual (and to investors highly desirable) sale of ITV to a US predator and Green's fiercely independent character.

Although few doubt he is as cash motivated as the next multimillionaire, he is also intensely proud of his achievements and unlikely to sacrifice them for a few dollars more. Some see him as a greater obstacle to a US takeover of ITV than the British government.

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff