Cromwell board overhaul as CEO search continues

Cromwell board overhaul as CEO search continues

Corporate raider and Cromwell non-executive director Gary Weiss.

More than two months after the departure of longstanding CEO Paul Weightman, Cromwell Property Group (ASX: CMW) is stacking its board with more independent directors in its new chapter led by Dr Gary Weiss's ARA Property Group.

Weiss technically is not a majority shareholder, but with a minority stake and the backing of billionaire Gordon Tang he was able to successfully sway shareholder votes in his favour late last year, kicking out three directors including then chairman Leon Blitz.  

After the board spill and the appointment of Jane Tongs as chair, Weiss was the only non-independent director out of a board of five.

But with two more appointments announced today, the number of independent directors on the board has increased to six out of seven, although Joseph Gersh was nominated by ARA last year.

Today's appointments of Rob Blain and Ooi Eng Peng bring fresh property experience to an already highly accomplished board, with the pair having spent decades in senior roles at CBRE and Lendlease respectively.

"Together, they bring over 75 years of industry experience to Cromwell. We will benefit from their expertise, market knowledge and breadth of experience in Asian markets in particular," Tongs said.

"The appointments reinforce our stated commitment to renew the Cromwell Board, which now comprises seven experienced directors. Six of these directors are independent, including myself as Chair.

The two other independent directors are Tanya Cox and Lisa Scenna, who were both appointed in October 2019 and between them have experience in senior roles at such companies as Westfield, Stockland and Dexus, in addition to international backgrounds in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Michael Wilde is currently acting as CEO while the company looks for a more permanent replacement, while the group has an interim CFO as well in Brett Hinton.

"The Board will now finalise the appointment of a permanent CEO and will move forward united and with the clear objective of increasing value for the benefit of all securityholders and stakeholders," Tongs said.

CMW shares have not fared well since Weightman's retirement was announced on 17 December, falling 11.5 per cent since then, while a 35.4 per cent reduction in statutory profit to $146.8 million for the December half has done little to encourage upward movement.

In the first half announcement in February, Wilde described an outlook of a "transitionary year" dominated by COVID-19 in 2021.

"Lockdowns, remote working and social distancing restrictions are set to continue in some form until vaccination programmes have been successfully rolled out," he said.

"Real estate markets have been impacted and while transaction volumes will pick-up and people will return to the office, the exact timing and nature of these activities are hard to forecast and will also likely vary country by country."

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