Aimia's largest investor says dissident shareholders' board picks 'well-suited'

Aimia Inc.’s largest investor is expressing tentative support for board nominees put forward by dissident shareholders amidst an ongoing civil war at the loyalty company.

The nominees are “qualified and well-suited” based on an initial review, Mittleman Brothers LLC said in a statement Tuesday. It will “seek to engage” with them as soon as the rebellious shareholders’ information circular is mailed in order to hear their ideas, share its own views and determine how much support it might grant them.

The investment manager says it is not part of the group that requisitioned a special shareholder meeting set for January, but is “prepared to take all necessary action to prevent shareholders’ voting rights from being infringed upon at the upcoming meeting…including any attempt to prevent Mittleman Brothers from voting.”

“Since July 10, 2019, we have made several public statements that Aimia’s board should not assume continued support from Mittleman Brothers. Our stance in this regard is unchanged,” said the New York-based firm, which owns about 23.1 per cent of outstanding shares.

Last month, a group of shareholders announced they aim to overthrow half of the eight-member board, which presided over the sale of Aimia’s flagship Aeroplan rewards program to Air Canada earlier this year as well as months of turmoil around control of the company.

Mittleman had also filed a counterclaim against the Montreal-based company along with six current and former members of the board. The showdown in an Ontario court rebuts Aimia’s July lawsuit accusing the investor of violating a contracted truce, part of a drawn-out battle over control of the board of directors.

Mittleman said it has asked the Toronto Stock Exchange to “closely monitor” the loyalty company’s dealings and require that “any acquisition, financing, issuance of securities, or other defensive tactic…be approved by shareholders.”

Mittleman’s counterclaim names Aimia chairman Bill McEwan, chief executive Jeremy Rabe, former chairman Robert Brown, board members Thomas Gardner and Robert Kreidler and former board member Emma Griffin.

The shareholder group, dubbed Aimia Shareholders for Accountability, filed a formal requisition with the company on Sept. 12 demanding a special meeting to replace the four longest-serving directors “in the interest of long-suffering investors.”

Charlie Frischer, a Seattle-based investor who speaks for the group, is calling for himself and three others to take the place of McEwan, Rabe, Gardner and Kreidler, all of whom came on board within the past three years.

Aimia has lost about 60 per cent of its stock value since Dec. 1, 2016, when McEwan and Gardner joined the board, Frischer has noted.

He has also pointed to its money-losing loyalty businesses, which saw a net loss of $74.9 million last year.

Last summer, Frischer demanded a redo of the annual general meeting in June, which he characterized as “plagued with irregularities.”

Aimia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2019.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AIM, TSX:AC))

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press