Activist investor misses the bus for FirstGroup board nomination

An activist investor in rail and bus business FirstGroup has failed to file the correct paperwork as part of an attempt to force out six directors, including the chief executive.

Coast Capital, which has a 9.7% stake in First, had demanded a special meeting of shareholders for June 25 to vote seven hand-picked candidates on to the board.

But one nominee – David Martin, former chief executive of transport firm Arriva – failed to submit a so-called “consent” letter showing that he agrees to stand for the board position.

Former boss of Arriva, David Martin
Former boss of Arriva, David Martin

A source close to FirstGroup said: “Despite having since May 10, and despite the six other consent letters being received, there has been no letter of consent from Mr Martin.

“We can only assume there never was a letter and he does not want to be considered, but that is a matter for Mr Martin and Coast.”

Coast previously said that it wants FirstGroup to split its US and UK business and remove itself from Britain’s rail industry, where it operates Great Western Railway, South Western Railway (SWR) and TransPennine Express.

But FirstGroup has claimed Coast is “rooted in the past” and simply wants to “seize control of a UK-listed plc without paying a premium”.

One of Coast’s star turns, whom activists have lined up as the next chairman, is 74-year-old former Tory transport minister Steve Norris.

Steve Norris Conservative Party conference
Steve Norris Conservative Party conference

Since Coast first launched its assault, FirstGroup has decided to sell its US Greyhound bus business and is looking to separate its UK bus group, although bosses insisted the decision is nothing to with the activist pressure.

FirstGroup said: “The company has not received any such confirmation from one of the Coast nominees, Mr David Martin, of his willingness to be appointed as a director of the company.

“Accordingly, that Coast nominee, Mr Martin, is not eligible to be appointed as a director of the company at the general meeting.”