February 19, 2018 / 3:30 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Retail tycoon seeks support to oust Myer board; slams non-shopper chief

* Lew aims to call meeting to oust board within weeks

* Steps up attack on Myer boss after he said he shops rarely

* No. 2 shareholder has so far supported the Myer board (Recasts and writes through, adds shares)

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Myer Holdings Ltd’s top shareholder plans to formally request a meeting to oust its board within weeks, escalating an attack on the department store firm’s new chief who recently said he was old-fashioned and rarely went shopping.

The campaign by retail tycoon Solomon Lew to install a new board with more experience has only gained momentum after Australia’s best known department store chain said last week that its CEO would step down following two profit downgrades since December.

Lew’s company Premier Investments Ltd owns 10.8 percent of Myer and a move to oust the board would need support from more than 50 percent of shareholders.

In November it managed to get 25 percent of shareholders to vote against the company’s remuneration report. But Investors Mutual, Myer’s second-biggest shareholder with 9.9 percent, has so far supported the current board.

In a letter to shareholders, sent to media on Monday, Lew heaped criticism on Garry Hounsell, who started as chairman three months ago and has taken the helm as executive chairman while the 118-year old firm searches for a new CEO.

Hounsell told media last week that he only went shopping two or three times a year and had no personal interest in online shopping.

“If this out-of-touch incompetence wasn’t causing all Myer shareholders significant value destruction, it would be comical,” said the letter, also criticising Hounsell for having backed the previous CEO’s turnaround strategy.

“Myer has a discredited chairman for a CEO, a failed Board, a dead strategy,” it added.

A Myer spokesman declined comment. A representative for Investors Mutual was also not immediately available for comment.

Lew has said he wants a new board for Myer, currently in the midst of a 5-year turnaround plan, made up of people with substantial retail experience. He wants to install two of his own directors plus a third director who would be independent.

Myer shares were down 3 percent at a record low of 53 Australian cents by mid-session, while the broader market was up 0.5 percent. The shares were issued for A$4.10 when the company listed in 2009 and have never traded above that level.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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