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Vitasoy family behind bid to oust Esprit management

Hong Kong-listed apparel retailer Esprit is facing a boardroom stoush seeking the immediate removal of CEO Anders Christian Kristiansen who is leading a restructure of the long-ailing business.

Trading in Esprit shares was suspended yesterday and this morning the company revealed that North Point Talent Ltd, now its largest shareholder with a nearly 13-per-cent stake, has sought an urgent extraordinary shareholder meeting to vote on the exit of Kristiansen and another director, Dr Johannes Georg Schmidt-Schultes.

North Point is an investment vehicle of Karen Lo, a descendent of the family which founded the Vitasoy business.

The move comes as North Point has boosted its holding in Esprit from 4.93 per cent at a cost of US$17 million. After exceeding the 10-per-cent threshold, the investor has the right to call an extraordinary general meeting. 

The move reflects North Point’s lack of confidence in the current management team and a move to replace it with new leadership – and could signal a takeover bid is in the wind, despite Esprit’s European business effectively being in bankruptcy protection.  

Last week Esprit revealed plans to axe 1200 jobs and close 50 stores in Germany under the court-protected administration process. The company had closed all of its stores in Asia by the end of last month in an earlier round of cuts as it attempts to reverse years of losses driven by a long-standing inability to design clothes which appeal to its core customer base.

North Point is also seeking the appointment of Marc Andreas Tschirner, Christin Chiu and Wai Wong as executive directors of the company with immediate effect. 

The precise reasoning behind the removals and appointments are detailed in a statement filed along with the meeting request, but these have not been made public as yet.

“The board is looking into the allegations made by the requisitionist and will seek legal advice if necessary,” Esprit company secretary Ophelia Lo said in a stock-exchange filing. 

The trading halt was lifted this morning. 

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