Quarto founder forced to quit after 36 years

 

One of the longest-serving bosses of a listed company was dramatically ousted yesterday after 36 years in charge.

Laurence Orbach was forced to quit as the chairman and chief executive of the independent book publisher Quarto by the activist investor Harwood Capital at an emergency general meeting in London yesterday. Tim Chadwick, Harwood's representative, was elected as a director, and said he will take a hands-on role as chairman as he reviews the business.

Harwood, which is led by Christopher Mills, a long-time critic of Mr Orbach, argued that Quarto had underperformed and failed to deliver value for shareholders.

In a dramatic last-minute move, one of Mr Orbach's fellow co-founders, Robert Morley, switched support to Harwood ahead of the vote. Harwood also upped its stake from 19 per cent to 29 per cent, helping to win over a majority of shareholders.

Mr Orbach, an American academic, did not attend. "It's a very sad end for Laurence," said one ally. Fiona Orford-Williams, an analyst at Edison, paid tribute to Mr Orbach, a notable sceptic about e-books who was more comfortable with the traditional world of physic al books.

"The publishing world will be considerably less colourful," Ms Orford-Williams said. "Laurence Orbach has been a pioneer of successful niche publishing with strident views on the industry." But she warned: "The shares have for too long been trading at a considerable discount to its underlying assets and its peers in the market."

Mr Chadwick said it was crucial that Quarto embraced e-books as it lagged badly behind rivals such as Bloomsbury.

He added that Quarto's self-help and how-to guides were "perfect for the growing middle class in China, India and South America".

Mr Chadwick has backed Quarto's chief operating officer Marcus Leaver, who will take over as chief executive – despite the Quarto board unanimously complaining ahead of the vote that Mr Chadwick had a "limited and poor record of running publishing businesses".

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