Belfast Telegraph

Yet another chairman is ousted in board tussle

By Don Anderson

Northern Ireland has very few companies listed on the stock market and UTV is one of them. The acrimonious removal of its chairman of more than two decades, John B McGuckian, is therefore an event of great interest.

This kind of upheaval in a company is rare. The official word UTV used was "remove" as chairman. So he didn't jump from the chairmanship, he was pushed.

UTV said: "A majority of the members of the board consisting of Roy Bailie, Helen Kirkpatrick, John McCann, Scott Taunton and Norman McKeown considered that Mr McGuckian's close association with TVC, a major shareholder of UTV, had compromised his independence to such an extent that they no longer considered it appropriate for him to continue as chairman."

Shane Reihill, also chairman of TVC, Kevin Lagan, chief executive of Lagan Holdings, and John B McGuckian himself then resigned as company directors, meaning that on February 23 a board split came to a head and the result was a major exodus of heavyweight members.

No more details are forthcoming, with UTV citing the 'closed period'.

In July 2008 the Dublin venture capital company TVC announced that it had acquired a 18% shareholding in UTV, becoming the largest single shareholder. In September 2008 Shane Reihill, executive chairman of TVC Holdings, was appointed to the board of UTV, as might be expected.

It is reasonable to assume that the association with TVC became a matter of concern. To take the severe step of unseating the chairman means that concern must have been serious.

During his term of office Mr McGuckian has seen the restructuring and diversification of UTV enabling it to be one of only a couple of commercial TV companies to remain independent. UTV values its independence. Towards the end of the summer of 1997, Scottish Television made what is known as a 'dawn raid' on UTV shares, snapping up 14.9%.

Prompt action by the UTV board chaired by McGuckian ultimately thwarted a full bid for the company by Scottish Television.

So John B has seen a lot of action in his time at UTV. Comparisons are being made with the demise of the last UTV chairman, Brum Henderson, who was also voted out by the board. But I suspect that the reasons for the vote this time bear little relation to what happened back in 1990.

Don Anderson is a former BBC Northern Ireland executive, a former broadcast regulator and the author of '50 years of UTV'