Raffles Education boss seeks investor support

Mr Chew Hua Seng said Raffles Education needed fresh cash to fund expansion, according to people who were at yesterday's annual shareholder meeting.
Mr Chew Hua Seng said Raffles Education needed fresh cash to fund expansion, according to people who were at yesterday's annual shareholder meeting.ST FILE PHOTO

He addresses shareholders at AGM, a day after tycoon Oei Hong Leong calls for his removal

Raffles Education boss Chew Hua Seng yesterday urged investors to give him more time to deliver on his promises, despite the company posting a net loss over the last year.

But Mr Chew refused to discuss matters relating to local billionaire Oei Hong Leong - a long-time investor turned antagonist who delivered a letter to the board of directors on Thursday, calling for Mr Chew's removal from the company.

When asked what he was doing to turn the business around, Mr Chew told a packed room at the firm's annual general meeting (AGM) in Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay: "I recognise that the profit is not showing.

"I just need you to give me continued support and this year, I can already tell you that our numbers are positive... I can bring a lot of staff here to tell you that our numbers are growing."

Still, some shareholders were apprehensive. One investor brought up Mr Chew's recent decision to place out new shares at 30 cents apiece: "That's way below the projection of the company's future that you are giving, and way below the net asset value (NAV) per share.

"When you're diluting at 30 cents, the whole story falls apart."

The group had a NAV per share of 54.6 cents as at June 30.

A LITTLE MORE TIME

I just need you to give me continued support and this year, I can already tell you that our numbers are positive... I can bring a lot of staff here to tell you that our numbers are growing.

RAFFLES EDUCATION CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE CHEW HUA SENG, on what he is doing to turn the firm around. 

Mr Chew said the company needed fresh cash to fund expansion, according to people who were at the meeting. He said the firm had gone through a hard time over the last few years, and there would be no buyers if it had tried to do a placement. The share price spike in September - fuelled by Mr Oei's buying - presented an opportunity.

"We needed money and within two days, we made the placement because that was actually the best price we had got for the last two, three years," said Mr Chew.

In his letter calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM), Mr Oei had also asked that the identities of those who received stock in the placement exercise be disclosed.

Mr Oei's hostility comes as a surprise. The market had always presumed him and Mr Chew to be friends. Mr Oei's motives remain unclear but the placement diluted his stake in the company from 14.04 per cent to 12.88 per cent.

Long-time shareholder Mano Sabnani suggested that the two bigwigs settle and avoid a "shoot-out" altogether. He said: "Why don't you just disclose? You solve the problem of trying to call another meeting. You've got to focus now on making money for us, not on those things."

Mr Chew said it was not his right to make the disclosure, adding that it rested on the people who had received the stock. "If I were to broadcast, their confidentiality could be involved," he said.

  • 56.22% 

    Percentage of backing for renewing a share purchase mandate to authorise thefirm to buy up to 10 per cent of company shares.

  •  12.5% 

    Percentage rise in Raffles Education's share price yesterday. It surged four cents to 36 cents, on volume of 30.3 million shares.

Lead independent director Henry Tan added: "I'm sure it's also the chairman's desire to look at how we can reach an amicable solution... We need to meet the lawyers very soon as well."

Mr Sabnani also called for the role of chairman and CEO to be separated. Mr Chew wears both hats.

"We shareholders have told you in a friendly way. You didn't listen. Now someone (Mr Oei) has used the spanner and opened the box and said, do it... The corporate governance code recommends strongly for the chairman to be separate. Do you agree or not?"

Mr Chew replied: "The code is a recommendation."

Raffles Education's share price surged four cents or 12.5 per cent to 36 cents yesterday, on volume of 30.3 million shares. It has a market cap of about $381.8 million, down from $2.6 billion in 2008.

All AGM resolutions were passed. A share purchase mandate to authorise the firm to buy up to 10 per cent of company shares was renewed with 56.22 per cent backing.

Raffles Education is required to convene an EGM no later than two months from Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2017, with the headline 'Raffles Education boss seeks investor support'. Print Edition | Subscribe