05 December 2013

Exclusive: CRO talks with board nominee Scott Murdoch

The CRO's Chris Graham chats with board nominee Scott Murdoch about last week's fans meeting, his thoughts on the current board, the investors who backed the EGM, and more...

You met with around 500 fans the other night in an open meeting. How do you feel it went?

I think it went quite well. I have never taken part in anything like that before so it was slightly nerve racking but as it’s something we all feel so passionate about, that somehow made it easier. The fans seemed to be extremely supportive generally. We understood one or two hard questions for Malcolm and Paul given their involvement previously but on the whole I personally really enjoyed it.

Are you concerned that despite being supportive, some fan shareholders might still not be clear about the need to vote?

Roughly 12 percent of the shareholding is held by fans. My sister, who lives in Manchester, is also a massive Rangers fan and she commented that normally she would just have binned her proxy voting form as a small shareholder who was unable to attend the AGM. We are hoping to get something in the order of eight percent. Not that we think that four percent will vote against us but I do think there will be some people who just won’t use their vote sadly. There are lots of people out there who might not realise how important their vote can be. It’s going to be a very close fight and every single vote will count. The fans have a huge role to play in making this decision on the future of the club.

We also want a board position for the fans and we think it’s long overdue. You have to think that what we’ve seen in the past two-to-three years would never have happened if we’d had two things. First of all, fan representation on the board and, secondly, other Rangers people on the board in general. Even with the new additions to the board recently we’ve got a lack of people whose natural instinct would be to put the club first. But if you’ve got a love for the club and an affection that goes way, way back then you would never let what’s happened to the club happen again.

Even with the new board appointees, do you still feel there is a trust issue?

Graham Wallace does look very credible. We were in discussions with him to be our CFO to replace Brian Stockbridge with Christian Purslow as our CEO. I don’t blame Graham Wallace for going for the CEO role. It’s an ambitious thing for him to do and he’s apparently always wanted to be a CEO. You do have to question why someone would take board representation now with an AGM in a few weeks where they could potentially be kicked out but he does appear to be a good guy on the face of it.

The problem is we’ve all been duped by one or two of the people involved. I even met Stockbridge once for about 5 minutes and thought he seemed ok but clearly that hasn’t turned out to be the case. He’s one of the worst we’ve ever had up the marble staircase. We’re all sceptical of anyone coming into the club without having their true independence verified. With these three new appointees, nobody knows who appointed them. We’ve asked them by the way and they apparently can’t remember – which is interesting. It was a few weeks ago but it’s amazing how their memory has faded.

We’re not sure at all about David Somers and Norman Crighton appears to have been appointed by Laxey who are an activist shareholder. All they care about, quite rightly from their point of view, is improved share price performance. So is he genuinely independent and representing the whole of the shareholding? He may well be but we’d like him and Somers to prove themselves as truly independent. We could all end up sitting on the same board together but I for one certainly wouldn’t sit on a board alongside Brian Stockbridge. I would happily sit with the other guys to make sure they are trustworthy and if they are not I would expose them.

Do they have an opportunity to show independence before AGM?

There are two things they can do. They can tell us how they got appointed. Were they appointed by Brian Stockbridge? Who brought them on board? How did David Somers get selected? Secondly if they are independent then they will presumably realise that under the financial control of Brian Stockbridge, and aside from his personal conduct, the company performance has been appalling. Stockbridge predicted a £7m loss which in fact became a £14m loss only 3 months after he made the prediction. He is clearly incapable. If you were independent then surely you would ask him to leave?

I don’t think Graham Wallace will do himself any favours if he nails his colours to the Stockbridge mast. If he takes him to the AGM with him then he’s effectively doing that. If you ask me what I’d do if I was Graham Wallace then I’d suggest to Stockbridge that he falls on his sword. He is without question directly linked with Imran Ahmad and Charles Green and he’s got to go.

A statement was made last week regarding Brian Stockbridge being reported to the Serious Fraud Office over payments made out of the club. Is it possible to release more detail?

It is a fact that an ex-employee is questioning certain payments made to various shareholders at the time of the IPO. It is also a fact that the ex-employee has reported the matter to the SFO. It’s difficult for us to comment beyond that but we have the affidavit to that effect. He’s like the cat with nine lives. How on earth can he continue?

The Easdales seem to be seldom mentioned and didn’t come up at all as a topic at the fan meeting. What is the position on them?

I’ve never met either of the brothers. We are concerned that we’ve still seen nothing on who Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita are, despite attempts to get that information, but obviously the Easdales know who they are as they are holding their proxy vote. We’ve not seen or heard of any wrongdoing on their part though, so from a collective point of view we are prepared to work with them, see if they can be independent and see what their motives are with regard to the club.

Do you acknowledge the right of these shareholders to have board representation in the form of the Easdales for Blue Pitch and Margarita and possibly Norman Crighton for Laxey?

We do. Given the substantial nature of the shareholdings they represent we realise their right to that representation in the form of Non Exec positions. We would just like to know who some of the shareholders they represent are and whether, in one shape or form, Charles Green and Imran Ahmad are involved with them still.

It was brought up the other night that Charles Green was still involved and had been recently lobbying shareholders but he has publicly stated he no longer has any financial interest in Rangers?

It’s very odd but he is still speaking to shareholders. All the nominee directors have been involved in liaising with investors ahead of the AGM and indeed we’ve had some excellent meetings this week with some of the largest shareholders who have expressed their 100 percent support of the four of us. In the course of going through all the shareholders to try to establish who is supportive, I spoke to a shareholder who hadn’t heard from Green for months. I then got a phone call from them saying that suddenly Green had appeared last week, in person, despite saying he was completely out of the picture, to have a chat and try to convince them that there were “two sides to every story”.

Do you think the original block of shareholders who supported the EGM requisition are still supportive?

Yes I do. One of the biggest criticisms made of us is not buying up more shares and perhaps we’ve not communicated on that well enough. The stock market rules are that if you are above 30 percent then you have to make a bid for the business. As we technically represent about 28 percent it becomes very tricky for us to buy up more shares which could cause issues with concert party rules. I for one am determined to contribute money to the club. Sadly I’m not in Jim McColl’s league and doing that right now is tricky because of concert party rules. Also, like many of the people who wish to invest, I want to invest with a clean board in place and not just be handing my money over to Charles Green. We’ve had discussions with existing shareholders and also a lot of meetings with other potential investors and we will bring investment in from people who love the club but want a clean board.

Would these people invest without change to the board?

In terms of the new investors I think they would need a cleaned up board. I think they’d be insane to invest without the required change. Also why would existing investors put in more money without change, having seen their original investment fall by 40 percent in a short period of time. Under the reigns of Stockbridge we have seen massive losses and the share price plummet. It embarrassing when the team on the park is doing so well and we are heading back towards the top league and European football, that the financial performance has been quite the reverse. We are running out of money, according to Stockbridge himself, in March/April of next year, which is unbelievable and we need to get further investment into the club and get back on track financially.

It says a lot for the strength of the club and the brand that people still want to invest despite what they’ve seen. They just feel it needs cleaned up. Clubs down in England don’t need the fans as much as in Scotland. The revenue streams from television allow them to treat the income generated by fans as almost an extra. The complete reverse applies to Rangers. We need the fans. They have had to come out in their multitudes and the institutions have seen that. Last season we were the fourth biggest supported club in Britain and the 14th in Europe. It’s incredible for what was a Third Division club. The business model can work if it is well run because there is a solid foundation of support.

Jack Irvine’s remuneration package was also discussed at the fan meeting but he immediately denied the figures mentioned. He also said that you are “demented”. Do you have any comment on that?

It is my understanding that I was accurate on his payments from information provided to me. If the numbers are shown to be inaccurate then I am happy to apologise to Mr Irvine. However, I would suggest that it is in everyone's interest for Mr Irvine and/or the Club to clarify what his contract actually is if he feels we have got it wrong.

You talk about trust and transparency in the Rangers Constitution you have published. Is that a crucial point for the nominee directors?

Yes. I’m reading a book on Bill Struth at the moment and you just wonder what people would have thought about all this in years gone by, our forefathers who have long since passed away. It is just extraordinary the poison that has spread into the club. We have had more than our fair share of bad people in the club over the past few years and unfortunately some of them are still there.

There have been a lot of rumours and it sometimes seems that you are privy to info the fans don’t have. Can you understand that this leads to frustration and calls for clarity?

I can, but I think one of the problems is that with the amount of information that there has been, and the constant coverage, some things fall through the cracks. People get fatigued by it all. Every single thing we said at the meeting on Thursday has been in the public domain or has been reported somewhere or other. The financial results are there to be seen. Possible illegal payments in the form of alleged returns of capital to companies like Eurovestech have been spoken about, but some of it has maybe not received the attention that it should have. Jack Irvine has tried to nullify any particularly difficult bits of news for the board, and I think people get fed up hearing about some of this stuff, but it’s important. If we can get in we’ll try to expose any wrongdoing as much as possible.

Are you still confident that you can get onto board and things can improve from there for the club?

Yes. As my old man used to say, whenever you are at your lowest ebb then there is only one way to go. I think the next Rangers vs Celtic game will be a fantastic experience – an incredible occasion and atmosphere. It will be a firecracker. We’ve gone through a cathartic experience. I’m not saying it was meant to happen but I think in some ways the journey will have been cathartic. Going to grounds like Arbroath and East Fife, which I’d never done before, has been an eye opener and not a bad experience for the fans. It’s been bizarre at times but an enjoyable journey and once we’ve got rid of the poison from the club then I think we’ll be in a wonderful position. The next few trophies we win will be the sweetest we’ve ever had in our history.

Over at The Rangers Standard now, read an interview with nominee Alex Wilson.