Philip Day, the high street billionaire who owns Jaeger and Peacocks, will be nominated next week to chair one of Britain’s biggest infrastructure conglomerates amid a brutal row between its former boss and the current board.
Sky News has learnt that Mr Day, the owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM), has emerged as the shock choice of some of Stobart’s biggest shareholders to replace the current chairman, Iain Ferguson.
Mr Day is understood to have been asked by Neil Woodford, the founder of Woodford Investment Management and arguably Britain’s best-known fund manager, to allow his name to be put forward for the job.
Woodford has a shareholding of just under 20% of Stobart, an infrastructure company whose assets include London Southend Airport, and is backing its former boss Andrew Tinkler in his effort to remove Mr Ferguson.
The choice of Mr Day, which will be publicly confirmed on Monday, will be the most jaw-dropping development yet in an increasingly bitter fight between the two sides.
The retail tycoon, whose fortune was estimated at £1.2bn by the recent Sunday Times Rich List, is not thought to have served on a public company board before.
One source said he had agreed to be nominated “as a personal favour to Mr Woodford”.
The conflict pits Mr Day, one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, against Mr Ferguson, a former Tate & Lyle boss who has a wealth of boardroom experience.
Stobart Group, which has endured a difficult time in recent months, a period in which it aborted a potential takeover offer for Flybe, the regional airline, saw its shares slip to a 12-month low on Friday.
Mr Tinkler, a director and 7.7% shareholder in the company, said in a statement this week that his “only objective is to ensure that the company sticks to the agreed company strategy and does not deviate from this, as this will deliver the best returns for shareholders”.
Stobart Group operates across sectors including the supply of biomass for renewable energy generation, civil engineering for rail projects and a domestic airline called Stobart Air.
“My view is that a change of chairman would help to achieve that objective, and I know that view is shared by a number of major shareholders,” Mr Tinkler added.
“The current chairman…has however resisted any suggestion that he should resign and has decided, with the support of certain other directors, to make that disagreement public, rather than allowing time for discussions to continue in private and for proper soundings to be taken from the company’s major shareholders.”
The former chief executive, who stepped down last year to be replaced by Warwick Brady, an ex-easyJet director, added that the company had sanctioned the release of an announcement which contained “false and defamatory material about me, and information regarding the Company that I consider to be misleading”.
Stobart had said that Mr Tinkler’s conduct had caused “a number of challenges”, some of which related to financial actions allegedly aimed at benefiting him.
Invesco, Stobart’s biggest shareholder with a 25% stake, is backing Mr Ferguson and the rest of the board.
The row also triggered the resignation of Cenkos Securities, Stobart’s broker, because of its close relationship to Mr Tinkler.
It also has long-standing ties to Woodford.
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Stobart’s AGM was scheduled to take place on 28 June but will now be held “slightly later”, according to the company.
Spokesmen for Mr Day and Mr Tinkler declined to comment on Friday evening, while Stobart Group and Woodford could not be reached for comment.