National Express sought to neutralise the dispute with its dissident investor Elliott Advisors yesterday by saying it was considering putting one of the activist hedge fund's nominees on its board.
The transport group said Chris Muntwyler, the former head of DHL's UK arm, was on a six-strong shortlist for a non-executive berth. The move, ahead of the company's annual meeting next week, is seen as a way of resolving differences with Elliott, which has put forward three nominees as non-executive directors as it pushes for strategic changes at National Express.
Elliott, which owns about 18 per cent of the company, has said that it expects the Cosmen family, which owns about 17.4 per cent, to back its resolutions of the annual meeting in London on Tuesday.
But yesterday, National Express's chief executive Dean Finch said the company was listening to its largest shareholder.
"No one is picking up arms to fight each other but Elliott are our largest shareholder with 18 per cent of the company's stock and deserve a voice – they have put their money where their mouth is and we are listening to them," he said.
Alongside news of Mr Muntwyler candidacy, the company also defended its strategy with a strong trading update that showed a 30 per cent rise in profits for the first three months of the year.
"National Express has delivered a strong first quarter, with improving revenue growth and a significant increase in profitability that builds on the foundations for success we laid in 2010," Mr Finch said.
He said: "Our continued cost control initiatives and increased investment programme are both bearing fruit and demonstrate that our strategy is sound and will deliver significant shareholder value over the long term."
Quarterly revenues at the FTSE 250-listed transport group were 5 per cent higher compared with the year before, while the company, which said it was on course to improve its financial performance in this year, spent £30m to support growth in Spain and North America.
Shares in National Express rose 1.5 per cent to end at 261.8p.