Small Talk: Tod demands shareholder vote to reinstate him to family business

NetCall goes with a bang; BioMedica seeks cash boost for cancer drug test
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The Independent Online

Mr Tod says that, including the family stake of 28 per cent, he expects the support of shareholders representing 50 per cent of the company. The company says it amassed the support of about 50 per cent of the shareholders before firing Mr Tod. So expect fireworks.

Scott Tod operates some 2,200 of those standalone cash machines that charge for the privilege of taking your own money out. The high profile press and political campaigns against cash machine charges were amongst the factors blamed when the company issued a devastating profit warning in January, saying it will fall into the red, against all its early promise. The public resent the charges and are refusing to use the machines, the company says.

The main reason for the disaster, though, is that it has simply put its machines in the wrong place. Lots of them are making hardly any transactions at all and are having to be moved. David Massie, the chairman, who owns 13 per cent of the shares, fired Mr Tod when they disagreed about the future of the business: Mr Massie wanted a halt to the expansion plans until the existing machines were repositioned, Mr Tod wanted to do both in tandem.

So now the company is being served with a legal demand for an extraordinary general meeting and votes to remove Mr Massie, reinstall Mr Tod and appoint two new non-executive directors to supervise a strategy of renewed growth. Mr Tod says the requisition went in to the company's solicitors on Friday. Mr Massie will get his first opportunity to respond today, when Scott Tod reports full-year results.

The company says Mr Tod had to go because of losses for the year totalling more than £1m. Mr Massie is likely to be furious and will argue that, because Mr Tod is on "gardening leave" of a year for the duration of his notice period, he has obligations to the company and should not be stirring up shareholder discontent.

Mr Tod said the current strategy of halting new cash machine installations is condemning the company to a miserable future. Hew said: "If it does produce a profit, it will be a tiny profit. My plan for a certain amount of growth would take the company a little further into profit this year and set it up for the following year."

Mr Tod says he would also have greater support from suppliers and among the staff in the picturesque town of Crickhowell - snuggled between the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons - where Scott Tod is based.

Mr Tod and other directors have foregone bonuses they were expecting because of the company's poor trading record since it joined Aim via a takeover by Mr Massie's shell company, Darwen Capital, in November 2003. That acquisition was completed at 25p per share and although the stock initially climbed to 73p, it was back at 16.5p at the end of last week.

If Mr Tod's restoration plan succeeds, Jon Pither - a serial company director with strong links to Scott Tod's biggest institutional shareholder, F&C - would be chairman, with Martin Groak as a new non-executive director.

NetCall goes with a bang

Anyone who has ever turned near-homicidal while holding for a call centre assistant will want to give Henrik Bang a hug.

He is chief executive of NetCall, which sells software (called QueueBuster) that is able to take your phone number and calls you back when an assistant is finally free. You get to stay calm, and the company using the software gets a reputation for good customer service.

NetCall was something of a basket case when Mr Bang joined last year, but he is confident now not just that the company has been saved but that its telecoms technology is impressive enough to ensure it has a bright future.

The business model has been switched from one seeking one-off software sales to one where NetCall routes call centre calls through its own servers. This makes for more stable revenues and means it can offer the service to smaller businesses, who have fewer callers to their helplines.

The company already has an impressive blue-chip client list and is about to go on a marketing offensive. It has a second product allowing e-commerce websites to call any customers who get stuck, and will launch new software that can trigger mobile phone alerts, that will, for example, remind people to activate a credit card.

The risk is that in the short term the one-off software sales will fall faster than the new recurring revenues are built up, but the company looks an impressive bet for the long term.

BioMedica seeks cash boost for cancer drug test

When may Oxford BioMedica tap investors for more cash? This is becoming a concern for investors in the biotech company, whose shares dipped sharply last week as speculative investors sold out.

BioMedica, led by Professors Alan and Susan Kingsman, is based on cutting-edge cancer research out of Oxford University, and is developing drugs that use a genetically-modified virus to tackle tumours.

It needs to conduct a big trial to prove its lead product, TroVax, is a genuinely safe and effective treatment for cancer, but it has yet to sign up a partner with deep pockets and may have to go it alone next year.

It has about £17m in the bank but no revenues, so embarking on a £10m-plus study looks high risk, unless it tops up the kitty soon. Otherwise it could be in the invidious position of having to ditch work on less advanced but no less exciting products for other cancers and for Parkinson's.