Tony Nash, the founder of online book retailer Booktopia, was last night ordered by the board to step down immediately, even as a search for a new CEO has yet to be completed.
In a statement filed with the ASX, chairman Chris Beare said Nash – who built a $240 million business from scratch – would receive compensation of $375,000 as part of a bonus he was to otherwise receive related to the 2021 financial year. He will remain on the board as a director and as a significant shareholder in the company, but will serve out his six months notice period “out of the office”.
Booktopia CFO Geoff Stalley has been appointed interim CEO until a permanent replacement is recruited.
Last May Nash announced his decision to step aside from the day-to-day management of the company after shareholders were critical of his sale of part of his stake in the company for $4.5 million, just three weeks before what one media described as “a significant downgrade” in earnings. At the time he said he would step into a new role as chief growth officer, focusing on business development.
Today, Beare said Booktopia had just completed an internal business review “focussed on, amongst other things, its overall strategy, efficiency and its cost structure”.
“As part of this process, the board has determined that retaining Tony Nash as the chief growth officer whilst at the same time appointing a new CEO was not in the best interests of the business going forward.
“Accordingly, the board has given Tony notice to step away from executive management of the company in order to enable a new CEO to enter with a fresh start on well-laid foundations.”
Beare praised Nash’s “single-minded focus” in building Booktopia from nothing to the $240 million turnover company that it is today, adding it was an accomplishment rarely seen in Australian business.
Nash has been under increasing pressure in recent months from institutional investors in the listed company, concerned at seeing the company’s value fall from a market capitalisation of nearly $400 million to just $26 million late last month.
After critical coverage in the financial media, Nash took to LinkedIn to defend his position: “I don’t like being the villain in the investment community,” he wrote. “There’s nothing fabulous about that. But at the cost of being a leader in the book industry. Never!”
Referring to his success in building Booktopia, he wrote: “You do realise that there is no country in the English speaking world with an alternative online bookstore to Amazon, don’t you? Booktopia is the only one.”
He concluded: “No one said being listed was easy… it isn’t, but it is the path we are on and I for one look forward to see how Booktopia continues to grow and succeed.”