Private equity investor Onex Corp. ONEX-T appointed Bobby Le Blanc as its new chief executive as shareholders approved a plan that will see founder Gerry Schwartz give up his voting control of the company after three years.
The proposal to put a sunset date on the multiple voting shares that assure Mr. Schwartz’s control of Onex won overwhelming support from shareholders, as about 98 per cent of subordinate shares voted in favour of the plan. An equal proportion of subordinate shares held by minority shareholders also voted for the change.
After the vote passed, Mr. Schwartz, 80, stepped down as CEO, but will stay on as chair. Mr. Le Blanc has been at Onex for 23 years, most recently as president, and was announced as Mr. Schwartz’s likely successor last year. Had Thursday’s vote not passed, Mr. Schwartz had said he would stay on as CEO.
With Mr. Le Blanc in charge, “I know that Onex remains in very good hands,” Mr. Schwartz said at a virtual meeting of shareholders on Thursday.
For now, the company’s founder still has control of Onex. But the dual-class shares through which he has steered the company for decades, and elected a majority of its directors, will expire in three years, converting Onex to a more conventional single-class share structure.
When Onex first proposed the transition plan, Mr. Schwartz intended to keep control his multiple voting shares for another five years. But under pressure from investors, the company proposed to shorten the length of the sunset clause.
Mr. Schwartz is a pioneer in private equity and has been a mainstay of Canada’s corporate elite for decades. He launched Onex in 1984 and his stake in the company, which built its success on leveraged buyouts, made him a billionaire. Over the past decade, however, Onex has worked to reinvent itself, broadening the range of products it offers to institutions and high-net-worth individuals by launching credit funds and aiming to generate a more predictable stream of management fees.
It also acquired wealth manager Gluskin Sheff & Associates, but walked away from that strategy in March, transferring parts of the business to RBC Wealth Management Canada and winding down what was left.
Mr. Le Blanc’s promotion and the approval of a sunset for the dual-class shares “represent an important step forward on Onex’s transformation from a founder-centric investment company to a widely-held, multi-strategy investment manager,” Mr. Schwartz said at Thursday’s meeting.
Onex’s share price rose 3.6 per cent to $62.51 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday. But its stock still trades at a steep discount to the underlying value of its assets.
The company made modest headway at boosting its fee-generating assets under management to US$34.1-billion last year, but its fourth-quarter profit declined year over year. Fundraising for its flagship private equity fund has been difficult, and Onex acknowledged it had “a disappointing year” in 2022, when it chose to give Mr. Schwartz no bonus or incentive pay.
In brief remarks at Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Le Blanc praised Mr. Schwartz for his four decades as the “driving force behind Onex,” and for contributing to the growth and development of the private equity and alternative asset industries.
“I know the organization’s intrinsic value and what it’s capable of,” Mr. Le Blanc said.
Seven of 11 directors were elected with votes from the multiple voting shares at Thursday’s meeting. Two long-time directors, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington and former IBM World Trade Corp. CEO Bill Etherington, did not stand for re-election.