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BLISTERING phone message, coupled with an email barrage from a Toll Holdings director, has left the top management of the Toll-Patrick Corp joint rail venture Pacific National in tatters.
Pacific National managing director Stephen O'Donnell resigned on Friday, the third of three senior executives to go in recent weeks.
Commercial general manager Robert Jeremy and chief operating officer Mal Grimmond, both Toll employees on secondment, have been on extended leave since Toll launched its $4.2 billion bid for Patrick in August.
Mr O'Donnell claims that since Toll made its offer for Patrick, Mr Rowsthorn had:
BARRAGED his office with emails;
SOUGHT to overrule his objection about reinstating Mr Grimmond;
LEFT a phone message accusing him of working for Patrick after the Toll bid was announced.
A copy of the message, transcribed by Mr O'Donnell's personal assistant and which he released to BusinessDaily, states: ". . .you better get your finger out and get some legal advice, because we're coming to get you mate."
Speaking from his Sydney home late yesterday, Mr O'Donnell said the call was recorded on September 9, while he was visiting his 90-year-old mother in England.
He said that on one occasion Mr Rowsthorn sent him more than 20 emails within a period of two hours, and was looking to reinstate Mr Grimmond at next week's meeting of the Pacific National board.
Mr Rowsthorn was not available for comment yesterday, but Toll managing director Paul Little yesterday denied any threat had been made by his co-director.
Called later and told the text of the phone message, Mr Little replied: "In relation to purported statements or transcripts, I am not prepared to comment on those and I am sure, neither would Mark until we have a chance to understand them."
Mr Little said he was mindful of the timing of Mr O'Donnell's resignation, with the release of Patrick's formal response to the Toll offer expected this week.
Asked whether Mr Rowsthorn had made statements that might be perceived to have been intimidating, Mr Little replied: "No. . .of course not, just the normal situation between a board and the CEO when it comes to running the company.
"There was nothing untoward there. I think O'Donnell has done a reasonable job. The business is in very good shape."
Patrick spokesman Paul White told BusinessDaily Toll should explain the reasons why Mr O'Donnell resigned.
In his resignation letter, Mr O'Donnell stated: "I have found recent threats and intimidatory behaviour by one of the Toll directors to be completely unacceptable to me both personally and as a professional manager."
He said in the letter that it was clear an "irreparable breakdown" had occurred in the Toll Patrick relationship and this had contributed to his decision to resign.
The letter also appears to support Patrick's allegation that some Pacific National executives who negotiated a controversial freight contract in north Queensland with Toll had a conflict of interest because they were still being paid by Toll at the time.
"The aberrant behaviour by one of the Toll employees accountable for the Pacific National Queensland contract, who now refuses to accept my termination of his secondment to Pacific National, confirms in my mind the need to resign as CEO," Mr O'Donnell wrote.
Mr O'Donnell, who had not previously been employed by either Patrick or Toll, was appointed by a joint board decision in 2002.
He has told the Pacific National board he is prepared to serve out the two month notice period. Yesterday Mr Little said he would not object to Mr O'Donnell serving his notice.
Asked if he might ask him to reconsider, Mr Little said: " A board tends to become a little bit disenchanted with an executive who says he is considering these things and won't go public with it, and then, for reasons best known to him, goes totally public with it."
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