SINGAPORE - The boss of industrial firm See Hup Seng has apologised for igniting a boardroom row that prompted the firm's founder to quit and mount a shareholder revolt that will come to a head at a meeting in two weeks.
Managing director Jimmy Tan Thoo Chye said on Friday he regrets his response when a disagreement arose in March over how funds should be spent in developing the firm's refined petroleum business.
Founder and former chairman Thomas Lim disagreed with Mr Tan's approach.
"Out of frustration, I had regrettably informed Mr Lim that I would not support his re-election to the board at the annual general meeting (on April 29)," Mr Tan told The Straits Times.
"About a week later, I realised that I may have been too rash in my decision, and conveyed a message to Mr Lim on several occasions through two directors.
"I'd said that I would not vote against his re-election at the AGM and that we should settle the differences between us. However, my attempts at reconciliation were rebuffed by Mr Lim."
Mr Lim did not stand for re-election as an executive director at the AGM and resigned as chairman the same day.
He has since moved to force the issue.
On April 22, he transferred his shares to his son Terence Lim, who then filed requisition notices calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) together with another key shareholder Chew Hoe Soon.
The aim is to oust Mr Tan and reinstate the elder Mr Lim as an executive director among other proposals. This meeting will be held on July 22.
In an attempt to resolve the dispute, Mr Tan put a proposal to the board on May 17 calling for the wholly owned unit Tat Petroleum to be listed on the Catalist board.
See Hup Seng shareholders would automatically hold a similar stake in Tat Petroleum, under the proposal.
Mr Tan said splitting the refined petroleum arm from See Hup Seng's core business of corrosive prevention would let each unit set targets and strategy.
Although the board seemed keen on the idea, Mr Tan said it changed its mind after receiving a requisition notice demanding an EGM.
He withdrew the proposal on June 25.
It seems the EGM on July 22 could go Mr Lim's way.
Mr Tan has reduced his holdings in See Hup Seng, which in turn reduces his voting power at the EGM.
"In the absence of an amicable solution and the continued existence of the requisition notice despite my repeated efforts to resolve the matter, I decided to sell part of my stake at a price I'm happy with," he said.
"It will not be beneficial for shareholders for us to be engaged in a long-term dispute. If it really cannot be resolved, it will be better if one party exits.
"However, I will continue to retain a small stake in (the firm) and neither 'my camp' nor I have acquired any additional shares since April 29."
Mr Tan has reduced his direct and deemed interest in See Hup Seng from 6.57 per cent to 4.17 per cent.
The Straits Times understands that key investors in the opposing camp have amassed about 30 per cent of See Hup Seng's shares.
Mr Lim said on Friday that he will not comment until after the EGM.
When asked how confident he was of securing enough votes to stay in power, Mr Tan said: "I prefer not to speculate and will leave the decision to shareholders."
See Hup Seng shares closed 0.5 cents up at 28 cents on Friday.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.