M1 CEO to retire with buyout talks hanging overhead

Karen Kooi Lee Wah is set to retire next month and pave the way for Pareteum Asia CEO Manjot Singh Mann to take over the helm at the Singapore telco, which has been in the middle of buyout discussions involving its shareholders.

M1 CEO Karen Kooi Lee Wah is set to retire next month after 23 years with the Singapore telco, and whilst buyout discussions involving its shareholders still hang in the balance.

Kooi, 64, is scheduled to officially retire on 6 December 2018 and hand over the reins to Pareteum Asia CEO Manjot Singh Mann, said M1 in a statement Monday. The telco, however, noted that "pending developments related to Konnectivity's pre-conditional offer for M1 shares", she would remain as a board director and an advisor to the board until February 28 next year, "to ensure a smooth transition".

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M1 did not elaborate on what these developments might be or if the telco was close to resolving the buyout offer from current shareholders, Keppel Corp (KCL) and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

Through their joint venture company Konnectivity, KCL and SPH in September made an offer to buy out the remaining shares in M1 for S$2.06 per share, or an estimated S$1.91 billion (US$1.4 billion).

Currently holding 13.45 percent share in M1, SPH said it would pump its crop of 124.45 million shares into Konnectivity. The local media company added that it expected to invest up to S$51.3 million (US$37.63 million) in cash to fund the buyout offer. Should M1 accept the offer, SPH said its shares in Konnectivity would be between 20 percent and 43.84 percent.

In response to the buyout offer, M1's largest shareholder Axiata said it was "reviewing various options" available with the aim to "protect and enhance shareholders' value" of M1 and Axiata.

"We believe that any offer from any party should not only reflect and consider the accurate future value of M1, but also incorporate acceptable control premium based on market norms and precedent transactions of similar nature," Axiata said in a statement. The Malaysian telco group owns a 28.3 per cent stake in M1.

While it had yet to publicly announce its decision on Konnectivity's offer, that any buyout proposal should indicate "accurate future value of M1" was a point Axiata made repeatedly in a series of statements following Konnectivity's bid.

It said these should include considerations comparable premium on precedent transactions within the Asean market, as well as M1's historical trading trend--whereby the price has been depressed for more than a year vis a vis its true value potential--and future competitive outlook.

Kooi, who assumed the role as M1 CEO in 2009, said it was "time...to hand over the mantle" and would work with Mann to ensure a smooth transition.

The incoming CEO has more than 28 years of industry experience and was formerly global CEO of communications and convergence at UK-based Lebara Mobile, which was acquired by a Swiss-based equity group in 2017. He was also previously CEO of Hutchison Telecommunications' Jakarta operations.

Mann would be joining M1 from Pareteum, a cloud software vendor.