SkyePharma investors seek to oust chairman

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A trio of investors representing 13 per cent of the company's shares have lined up Mr Thian, a former Glaxo executive who chairs the medical equipment maker Whatman, to replace Mr Gowrie-Smith, who they accuse of "over-promising and under-delivering".

They were stung into action after signs that Mr Gowrie-Smith and fellow directors are close to appointing a new chief executive. The call for an extraordinary meeting is designed to delay that appointment so that Mr Thian can pick his own management team.

The trio - JO Hambro, Insight, the fund management arm of HBOS, and Morley, which invests Norwich Union savings - met SkyePharma board members on Monday to demand that they consider Mr Thian's appointment immediately, but it became clear after a late-night board meeting on Wednesday that the company had no such intention.

David Lis, fund manager at Morley, said: "Patience has worn thin and the board is clearly not listening to what shareholders want. SkyePharma shares have gone from £1 to 43p in five years. If a fund manager had that sort of performance record, they would have been fired."

SkyePharma expressed its disappointment at the requisition of a shareholder meeting before the conclusion of its strategy review, calling it "premature" and destabilising to the business.

SkyePharma, which put itself up for sale last November, is considering breaking itself up. Mr Gowrie-Smith has built SkyePharma into a significant drug developer, but its share price languished as the companyfailed to find a funding partner for a new asthma drug.

Mr Thian has masterminded a restructuring of Whatman since becoming chairman in 2002. He described the shareholder group as the active force behind the SkyePharma requisition, and described himself as their "chattel". He said: "Several of them are shareholders in Whatman, where they are happy bunnies in marked contrast to their mood with SkyePharma. Their feeling is that once I get in, I can quickly come up with a plan to improve the value of their asset."

The rebel shareholders claim to have the support of other institutional investors, believed to include Fidelity.