Mark Leftly: Bumi boss's endorsement is underwhelming

  • @MLeftly

Outlook Bumi's chief executive Nick von Schirnding used the word "relaunch" several times at a media call yesterday. In charge of the Indonesian coal miner since the New Year, the former Anglo American executive has been desperately trying to revive the scandal-scarred group's fortunes.

In that short time, he has discovered $201m (£129.7m) of "unauthorised expenditure", faced endless criticism from billionaire financier Nat Rothschild, and is now on the cusp of unravelling the convoluted ownership structure that has caused a series of public rows.

He's done a good job, but Mr von Schirnding does not make for a convincing salesman. In the next few weeks shareholders will vote on a complicated, multi-stage transaction that will finally see Indonesia's powerful Bakrie family separate its interests from Bumi.

The Bakries co-founded Bumi with Mr Rothschild in a $3bn deal in 2010, but shortly afterwards spectacularly fell-out.

Mr von Schirnding's plan will see the Bakries effectively replaced with another Indonesian tycoon, Samin Tan, a move that Mr Rothschild, who is still a significant shareholder, viciously opposes.

When the deal is completed, Mr Tan will own nearly half of Bumi's shares, which a furious Mr Rothschild argues "consolidates" the Indonesian's control of the group.

The scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty also argues that the deal would be disastrous for other investors.

Mr von Schirnding is clearly weary ahead of the final showdown over this transaction, which he believes will be sufficient to give a fresh management team the opportunity to concentrate on building a coal-mining empire.

Yesterday he denied that the deal was just like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, arguing that it is a transaction which will be "value accretive", which is business-speak for a bloody good deal.

However, Mr von Schirnding briefly let down his guard: "People see this as a solution. Is it the best solution? Perhaps not, but it's the best one on the table."

Worse still, he had already conceded that "ultimately you have to have faith in the company you're getting into bed with", which is hardly a ringing endorsement of Mr Tan.

That said, this is probably a correct analysis of Bumi's circumstances. But those words must have given Bumi's public-relations team fits and Mr Rothschild the chance of to argue even Mr von Schirnding has doubts over his preferred resolution to this sorry tale.