Ocho liquidation meeting 'shambolic mess'

The board of directors of Dunedin craft chocolate company Ocho presents to shareholders at an...
The board of directors of Dunedin craft chocolate company Ocho presents to shareholders at an online meeting yesterday. PHOTO: TIM SCOTT
Tempers flared as the fight to save Ocho heated up at a shareholders’ meeting labelled a "shambolic mess".

The fate of beleaguered Dunedin chocolate company Ocho remains uncertain after a resolution to place it into voluntary liquidation was postponed at a meeting yesterday.

After an "extremely close" vote, the board said it had decided to postpone the outcome by a day in order to verify the votes, and is expected to communicate the outcome to shareholders by 5pm today.

About 150 shareholders attended the meeting, some chiming in periodically over their microphones and the meeting’s online chat portal.

One shareholder said the meeting was critical and for it to be a "shambolic mess like this" was ridiculous.

Some said they were emotionally invested in Ocho and thanked the board for its work.

Others questioned why the meeting was being held during work hours, and expressed concern it was "not fair" for the nearly 3000 shareholders when only about 150 were present.

"The role of the directors is to represent the shareholders and I think you’ve done an incredibly poor job of that," one shareholder said.

"It seems like you’re in some sort of hurry to get out of your jobs because you’re not interested in them."

In a document sent to shareholders last week, the board said that if shareholders voted against the resolution to appoint a liquidator it would view this as a vote of no confidence and board members would resign from their positions.

Former Ocho managing director and chairman Dr Jim O’Malley said at the meeting that should the board step down, he was "up for" seizing a directorial position, even if it meant foregoing any compensation.

Jim O’Malley
Jim O’Malley
"I am the longest-serving general manager of that company ... and I would acknowledge that I was able to bring the company around because I didn’t draw a salary from it.

"But if that’s what I have to do again then I’ll do it again."

Ocho was not limping along, it had been "shoved back dramatically" by the Covid-19 pandemic, and was now recovering, Dr O’Malley said.

The company already had a number of skilled workers he believed the company could afford, and who were capable of running the factory themselves.

He agreed with the board that Ocho could not afford a general manager, but at this point it did not need one, he said.

His proposed budget was only until December this year, by which point he believed sales would go up.

Ocho board member Joanne Learmonth said the ability to run the company without management staff was "unfeasible" and Ocho could not be made financially viable without them.

Current staff had indicated they were willing to stay on, but it did not mean the company would be in any better condition in six months’ time, she said.

"Jim, you have your opinion on that, but our opinion is quite different."

Dr O’Malley also engaged in a tense exchange with board members as he sought an explanation for why he was not provided with the correct bank statements by the board.

They were in the wrong format, which would have taken "five minutes" to export correctly, and were for dates he had not requested.

He had also contacted an accountant to retrieve profit and loss reports, and after contacting them again at the start of the week was told the board had told them "not to send them", he said.

"If you thought that those were enough and then you instructed the accountant not to send me the [profit and loss reports], that’s pretty proactive blocking."

Ms Learmonth said there was a "miscommunication" and the board believed the information it provided was the same as what he had requested, as soon as he asked for it.

"We in no way purposely blocked you from getting information and, if anything, we actually expected a request for more information a lot sooner than we got it."