April 24, 2018 / 6:00 AM / 3 months ago

Telecom Italia shareholders to vote on CEO as board showdown delayed

* TIM shareholder meeting kicks off at 0900 GMT

* Vote on board candidates moved to May after ruling

By Agnieszka Flak

ROZZANO, Italy, April 24 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia (TIM) shareholders will vote on Tuesday to confirm Amos Genish as CEO, while a widely-anticipated showdown between the top two investors in Italy’s biggest phone group over board seats is delayed by 10 days.

Activist fund Elliott had called for six board members nominated by top shareholder Vivendi to be replaced in a vote at Tuesday’s annual general meeting, but a judge ruled that the motion should be excluded from the agenda.

Paul Singer’s fund has built a 9 percent stake in TIM to try shake up the way Vivendi - which owns 24 percent - runs it.

Elliott and the French media group were meant to face off for the first time on Tuesday, but this will now happen at another meeting scheduled for May 4.

On Tuesday, TIM shareholders will vote on the 2017 financial statements, the company’s remuneration policy and to confirm Amos Genish as chief executive.

Genish was co-opted by the board last September following the resignation of his predecessor, but his appointment has to be approved by shareholders to continue beyond the AGM.

While TIM had already said that Elliott’s proposal would not be discussed on Tuesday, investors are watching out for any clues on future moves from the two top investors who have been locked in a battle over the past seven weeks.

“STABILITY AND EXPERTISE”

Since becoming a TIM shareholder in 2015, Vivendi has gradually tightened its grip and last year appointed two-thirds of TIM’s board as well as making its own CEO, Arnaud de Puyfontaine, executive chairman of the former state phone monopoly.

The hands-on approach has led to frictions with Rome, concerned about an asset it considers of strategic importance, and has also unnerved other investors at the telecoms group.

Elliott has said TIM’s share price, strategy and governance had suffered under Vivendi’s leadership and accused the French media group of only serving its own interest.

Vivendi in turn had asked investors to trust its long-term strategy, saying it provided “stability and expertise” to the Italian phone firm, in contrast with Elliott’s “quick fixes”.

In May, shareholders will be asked to pick between Elliott’s slate of 10 independent Italian business heavyweights and Vivendi’s list, that did little to allay governance concerns.

Vivendi’s chances of securing a board majority are fading, especially after three proxy advisers recommended backing Elliott’s candidates ahead of the now scrapped April vote, saying the French group had been damaging for governance and shareholder returns. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak Editing by Alexander Smith)

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