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Cromwell may lose its founder as bitter fight for control drags on

Business

Brisbane property fund Cromwell has signalled the end of managing director and founder Paul Weightman’s role with the company after 20 years.

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If Weightman does leave the company he would be the fourth to be purged from the board as Singapore’s ARA asserts its control over it.

The fight has not impressed investors, with the stock falling 6 per cent yesterday, but it recovered this morning with a 3 per cent rise.

ARA had been buying up to 29 per cent of the company it did not already own and used its voting power and links to another major shareholder to get Gary Weiss and Joe Gersch on to the board.

But it has always rejected claims it wanted control of the company and Weightman has led the defence, claiming ARA was trying to get control by stealth and without paying a premium.

Cromwell’s opposition to a remuneration report at the last AGM led to the departure of chairman Leon Blitz and two other directors, John Humphrey and Andrew Fay.

That was the result of two years of struggle by ARA to assert its power over Cromwell’s board and the culmination will occur at another shareholder’s meeting early next year where three board seats, including chair Jane Tongs, will be spilled.

In a statement to the ASX this morning Cromwell indicated the speculation about Weightman leaving the company as a sacrifice could be right.

“Mr Weightman has been executive chair or chief executive since 1988 and succession planning has been an issue on the Cromwell board’s agenda for some time,” Cromwell said.

“The board believes it is best practice to always consider what comes next and given his tenure of 22 years (it’s) natural for his position to be a matter for regular and ongoing discussion between Mr Weightman and the board.”

Despite criticism of its strategy by ARA, Cromwell has been a powerful force in the property market.

It controls about $8 billion in assets.

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