Tussle at Nobel Design heading towards possible resolution

 A file picture of the building at 16 Tai Seng Street which serves as the corporate HQ of Nobel Design. PHOTO:  CAMBRIDGE INDUSTRIAL TRUST
A file picture of the building at 16 Tai Seng Street which serves as the corporate HQ of Nobel Design. PHOTO: CAMBRIDGE INDUSTRIAL TRUST

SINGAPORE - The quarrel between Nobel Design's former chairman Bert Choong and the company's current board has taken a turn towards a possible amicable resolution.

Both parties are now seeking a mediation settlement for the defamation lawsuit Mr Choong filed in March 2015 against persons including non-executive chairman Adrian Chan and chief executing officer Terence Goon.

"We have been in mediation for around six months now. I have no intention to be confrontational," Mr Choong told The Straits Times on Friday (April 22) ahead of Nobel's annual general meeting (AGM).

The lawsuit was seen as part of the power tussle between Mr Choong, also a founder and 24 per cent shareholder of the furnishing and property firm, and the current management. Following the lawsuit he was voted out of the board at last year's AGM.

Mr Choong had, in turn, been highly critical of the accounting and corporate governance at Nobel Design, which had to revise its financial statements for 2014 in last September.

A year later, Mr Choong now shows a much less hostile stance towards Nobel's top figures, saying that the firm is doing the best it can in a choppy business environment.

"I'm only (attending the AGM) as a shareholder, and my only concerns are that there should be more transparency on the remuneration for the chief executive and chief operating officer," he said, referring to a lack of exact figures on this front in the annual report.

"I'm also worried that shareholders are not properly awarded with the dwindling level of dividend," Mr Choong added. Dividend last year was down 13.8 per cent to 0.56 cents a share.

These concerns were voiced and addressed peacefully at the AGM, where all resolutions were passed.

Mr Chan explained that the total dividend paid out actually rose 19 per cent to S$1.4 million last year, and other shareholders have expressed approval for a more conservative approach to dividend payout. Nobel had another difficult year in 2015, when net profit dropped 24.4 per cent to S$16.7 million.

"It hasn't been easy in Singapore given the stagnant property market, which also hurt demand for furnishings. Fortunately our businesses are diversified, and there are bright spots elsewhere," chief executive Mr Goon noted.

"Our revenue from the United States, where we supply to online retailers, have shown further growth and is now around 60 per cent of the group's sales," he added. The US revenue was up 31 per cent last year to S$49.4 million.

whwong@sph.com.sg