Listen to this article
John Thornton, a senior independent director of News Corporation, on Monday concluded a private whistle-stop tour of Australia in an attempt to quell the anger among the country's leading investment funds over the company's controversial decision to extend its poison pill takeover defences.
Mr Thornton, a former senior executive at Goldman Sachs, flew to Melbourne to meet Michael O'Sullivan, president of the Australian Council of Super Investors, before heading to Sydney to see Sandy Easterbrook, a director of Corporate Governance International, a leading proxy firm.
Mr Thornton, who now lectures at Beijing University, returned to Hong Kong on Monday night.
Investors are angry with News Corp for failing to honour a pledge to allow a shareholder vote on changes to poison pill defences. Twelve large pension and investment funds, some represented by ACSI, last week sued News Corp over the u-turn, which was announced in August.
CGI is urging investors to withhold votes on the re-election of four directors, including Peter Chernin, the chief operating officer, at next week's company meeting in the US.
It is understood that Monday's meetings, which highlight the nervousness on the News Corp board about the investor rebellion, were arranged last week, before the announcement of legal action. However, Mr O'Sullivan and Mr Easterbrook said that the talks were ?amicable? and ?interesting?.
Mr O'Sullivan said: ?I appreciate his visit. He came to talk about possible changes to future governance arrangements at News Corp. However, our stance on the poison pill remains unchanged. It is all systems go on the lawsuit.?
Mr Easterbrook commented: ?All I will say is that we had a wide-ranging discussion about corporate governance.?
In a related development, the Financial Times has learned that News Corp has hired the advisory services of Ira Millstein, a renowned expert on corporate governance matters.
In October last year News Corp said that future poison pill plans would be dependent on approval by the stockholders, in a bid to reassure Australian investors about the governance implications of its move from Australia to Delaware. However, in August the company extended its poison pill defence for a further two years to prevent John Malone's Liberty Media from increasing its voting stake in News Corp beyond the 18 per cent it had accumulated over recent months.
News Corp maintains that it has acted in the best interests of shareholders and has sharply criticised last week's legal move by investors.