Accor to face angry shareholders after CEO ouster
PARIS (Reuters) - Accor (ACCP.PA) will face investor and union anger over the influence of the hotel group's activist shareholders at its annual meeting on Thursday, two days after it bowed to pressure from them to sack its chairman and chief executive.
Europe's largest hotel group ousted Denis Hennequin on Tuesday and replaced him with a transition team - which includes Sebastien Bazin, the head of one activist investor, Colony Europe - in a disagreement over how quickly he was selling off assets to boost returns.
Hennequin is the third chief executive to be ousted from Accor, the world's fourth-largest hotelier, since U.S. firm Colony Capital invested in the group in 2005.
Private equity firm Eurazeo SA (EURA.PA) joined Colony at Accor in 2008 and together they own a combined 21.4 percent of the capital and command four board seats.
"We think it's shocking to sack a chief executive two days before a shareholders meeting where he was supposed to present the group's results. It creates a crisis situation," said Didier Cornardeau, the head of small shareholders association Appac.
"These two shareholders (Colony-Eurazeo) only look for quick returns while a CEO needs time for his project. So we ask our members to boycott the meeting in support of the CEO," he added.
Colony and Eurazeo declined to comment.
Sources have said the stakeholders were losing patience with the weak performance of Accor shares - down nearly 5 percent this year - and wanted to speed up asset sales and franchising to boost returns for investors.
Meanwhile, unions worry that Accor could toughen its restructuring in the wake of Hennequin's ouster.
The CFDT union called for workers to hold a protest in front of the AGM that will be held at Accor's Novotel hotel near Paris's Eiffel Tower, while the Force Ouvriere union asked Accor staff to stop work for 15 minutes when the meeting starts at 0900 GMT.
"What will be the group's strategy? Is Hennequin's ouster a signal that the group could be quickly dismantled?" said Gilles d'Arondel, Secretary General of Force Ouvriere at Accor.
Several brokerages, including Raymond James and Exane BNP, downgraded Accor, saying the management changes could disrupt the group's turnaround.
Shares in Accor, which competes with global rivals InterContinental Hotels Group Plc (IHG.L), Marriott International Inc MAR.N and Starwood (HOT.N), fell 2 percent, leading losers on the CAC-40 .FCHI.
Colony, which is also a major shareholder at Carrefour (CARR.PA), unsuccessfully pushed for a similar move at Europe's largest retailer.
"The next move could be a real estate demerger, under which we see limited incremental value creation compared to (Hennequin's) 2016 plan and substantial uncertainties," Exane said.
A source close to the company said that such as plan was "not on the agenda and had not been discussed by the board".
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Louise Heavens)
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