Conseco critic lands seat on company’s board-WEB ONLY



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Conseco
Inc. shareholders have expressed their dissatisfaction with the company’s
recent performance by electing a dissident shareholder to the board of
directors.

 

Keith
Long, a vocal critic of the company’s board, won a majority of votes cast,
according to preliminary results announced this morning at Conseco’s annual
meeting in Carmel.
Exact vote totals were not immediately available.

 

Long, a graduate
of Indiana University, is president of
Florida-based Otter Creek Management, which controls 1.4 million Conseco
shares, less than 1 percent of the total.

 
“This was
their way to send a message,” Conseco Chairman Glenn Hilliard said of
shareholders in an interview after the vote. “The shareholders are – as we are
personally in management – disappointed in how the stock has performed.”

 

Conseco
shares have lost 70 percent of their value in the last year. Investment losses
and accounting charges put Conseco perilously close to violating its bank loans
earlier this year – forcing the company to renegotiate and pay higher interest
rates for more breathing room on the terms of the loans.

 

Long, 61,
was not immediately available for comment. After the vote, he headed into
meetings with Conseco’s eight other directors.

 

It was
the second time Long had tried to land a seat on the board. In comments leading
up to the meeting, Long criticized Conseco’s board for failing to react quickly
enough to problems in the company’s long-term-care insurance policies and in
its investments.

 

You can’t judge people on a short-term basis, but this has
been going on for six years,” Long said on May 4. “Rightly or wrongly, somebody
has to bear responsibility.”

 

Hilliard
said it’s too early to say what role Long will have on the board or whether the
board will adopt any changes he suggests.

 

Hilliard
said Long will go through a board-orientation process. Board member Michael
Tokarz will prepare a report for the board’s June meeting on how to fit Long
into Conseco’s board committee structure.

 

“We’ll
certainly work to make him an effective member of the board,” Hilliard said.

 

Long
replaces Philip Roberts, a former investment officer at New York-based Mellon
Financial Corp. Roberts had chaired the board’s investment committee and sat on
its audit committee.

 

After
Hilliard announced Long’s victory during the meeting, he thanked Roberts for
his nearly six years of service to Conseco. The roomful of Conseco employees
and investors – including Long – gave Roberts a standing ovation.

 

Conseco CEO Jim Prieur also
thanked Roberts in his comments at the meeting. Asked afterwards if Long’s
election to the board will lead to changes in how Conseco operates, Prieur
said, “I don’t think so. He’ll just be one of the nine members of the board.”

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