Accor seeks to reassure shareholders at stormy meeting

Thu Apr 25, 2013 1:09pm EDT

* New management team vows to step up expansion

* Colony's Bazin says wants Accor to be a hotel leader

* New Accor Chairman sees no change in strategy

* Unions fear dismantling, CFDT union holds protest

By Dominique Vidalon and Cyril Altmeyer

PARIS, April 25 (Reuters) - Accor's new management vowed to speed up the hotel group's transformation on Thursday, as it tried to assuage opposition at the annual meeting to the influence of its activist shareholders.

Europe's largest hotel group ousted Chairman and Chief Executive Denis Hennequin on Tuesday and replaced him with a transitional team that includes Sebastien Bazin, a top executive at activist investor Colony Capital, which together with private equity firm Eurazeo SA control 21.4 percent of the company.

Newly-appointed non-executive chairman Philippe Citerne told a stormy shareholders' meeting on Thursday that his team would now move quickly to reduce the number of hotels Accor actually owns and instead increase its franchising and hotel management business.

Bazin said he was committed to turning Accor, which has been expanding in emerging markets, into a global industry leader.

Accor competes with InterContinental Hotels Group Plc , Marriott International Inc and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.

"We want to accelerate the strategy and for this transition period not to hurt the company," Bazin later told a news conference.

Accor's shares closed up 2.45 percent at 25.53 euros on Thursday, having lost over 4 percent over the past two days.

PREDATORS

Hennequin is the third chief executive to be ousted from Accor, the world's fourth-largest hotelier, since Colony Capital invested in the group in 2005.

Eurazeo joined Colony at Accor in 2008 and together they command four board seats.

Sources have said the stakeholders were losing patience with the weak performance of Accor shares - down nearly 7 percent this year - and wanted to speed up asset sales and franchising to boost returns for investors.

Two representatives from Accor's Workers Committee told the annual meeting that Hennequin's ousting was similar to a "coup d'etat" and thanked him for his "work, independence and great courage in dealing with investment funds who have no mercy."

The change of management enraged unions, who fear more job cuts, and it also worried some small shareholders who said that the constant management changes might be doing the chain more harm than good.

"Predators !" one shareholder in the audience said of the Colony-Eurazeo alliance.

Unions also worry that the funds could ultimately break up Accor to unlock value.

A few dozen CFDT union workers held a protest outside the meeting on Thursday, giving out leaflets that read: "Three CEOs in eight years, the human toll from disruption is heavy" and "if the current policy of breaking the group into parts continues, we are heading for a disaster and Accor could disappear,"

Accor's current market capitalisation now stands at 5.8 billion euros, little more than that of its former subsidiary Edenred SA, which was spun off in 2010, with the meal vouchers company valued at 5.7 billion euros. (Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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