BY TANYARADZWA NHARI
AN attempted takeover of the country’s biggest stock feed manufacturer, Feedmix Group of Companies, from its founding directors by a business partner is threatening to disrupt operations and destroy 450 jobs.
The messy fight reached tipping point after co-founders John Tayler and Alexander Kirkman, who were facing charges of fraud, attempted murder and conspiring to murder businessman Yitbarek Tekie, clashed with erstwhile business partners. Tekie had an agreement to buy Tayler’s Feedmix shares.
Tayler and Kirkman were cleared, in July 2021, at the Magistrates Court of fraud and attempted murder charges.
According to documents at hand, Tekie was introduced to Tayler by Kirkman with an intention to acquire Tayler’s 50% shareholding in Feedmix, which currently employs 450 workers across its 40 branches countrywide.
Feedmix is a giant stockfeed producer, which supplies the majority of dairy farmers in Zimbabwe.
Tayler, Kirkman and Talmage Alexander founded Feedmix in 2008 and later bought out Alexander in 2016. The board of directors as of 2016 were Tayler, Kirkman and one Chipo Mubaiwa, who had been working in the company since its establishment.
Tayler resigned from his formal employment in late 2016 but remained on the board as a non-executive director. His role was handed over to Graeme Barr who acted as general manager but was later replaced by Allistair Adamson in 2019.
Tekie was appointed as a member of the board of directors in 2017 and was a non-executive director until 2021.
In March 2019, Tekie then requested a meeting via Whatsapp with Tayler to discuss the prospects of a sale agreement.
According to documents, Tayler decided to sell his stake after being convinced by Kirkman that it was in the best interest of the company.
In December 2019, Tayler received a letter from Kirkman giving him the permission to sell his shares in Feedmix. Subsequently, in January 2020 an Umbrella Agreement was signed between Tekie and Tayler, which culminated in the sale of 50% of Tayler’s shares in Feedmix.
The terms of the agreement declared that the purchase value of the shareholding was about US$1 million. The price was to be paid by the transfer of a property owned by Tekie, which was a house worth US$475 000.
The remaining balance in cash was to be paid as follows; US$100 000 in cash within 30 days of signing the contract on January 11, 2020, US$20 000 in cash per month on or before the last working day of each successive month.
However, the sale collapsed after it was discovered that the property did not exist, according to a statement by Tayler.
After the agreement was signed, Tekie took the role of day-to-day running of the firm.
The fight, however, started when there was a disagreement around the audit findings commissioned by Tekie, where he claimed that Tayler did not disclose liabilities before the agreement was signed.
Tekie delayed his first monthly deposit and later sent a message to Tayler telling him that he had transferred US$35 000 but the funds never reflected in Tayler’s account, of which he notified Tekie.
On February 27 and March 5, 2020, Tayler got US$49 000 and US$45 000, respectively and the balance of US$6 000 was received in cash. Thereafter only two payments of US$20 000 were made in cash.
In March, 2020, Adamson, who was the chief executive at that time, was dismissed by Tekie and Kirkman without Tayler’s knowledge.
This further complicated the situation considering that Tekie had not yet completed paying for his shareholding.
In June 2020, according to documents, Tayler alleged that there was misuse of the company funds.
Documents in our possession state that Tayler cancelled the agreement when he felt Tekie was being evasive about meeting his end of the agreement.
Days later, Tekie caused the arrest of Tayler and Kirkman on the fraud charge.
The documents also claim that Tekie at one point locked the company co-founders out of Feedmix premises.
Tekie, according to documents, allegedly went on to take control of the company’s internet server.
“Things are now on a trajectory that does not bode well for all parties involved. In the event that we receive a meaningful and serious settlement proposal by Monday night, we shall cause Tekie to temporarily stop all actions he is pursuing to claim his rights for two weeks to allow for the settlement to be concluded,” read part of the e-mail sent by one Kersten Pucks to lawyer Nikita Madya who represented Kirkman.
“We will then cause Tekie to leave his warpath for two weeks to allow the settlement to be finalised and signed. Please be assured that it is our honest intention to try and de-escalate present and future developments by a constructive dialogue.”
Contacted for comment, Tayler refused to discuss the matter.
His lawyer Munyaradzi Midzi of Titan Law said the matter was due for arbitration and could not discuss further details.
Approached for comment, Tekie said the Feedmix shareholder battle was toxic.
He said: “The Feedmix saga is a diabolical and sad occurrence, not just for the stakeholders and litigants but also for our nation at large.
“Yesterday was a sad day; I received communication from our foreign investors letting us know of their intention to abort the Zimbabwe investment programme.
“Additionally, they seek to extract their portion of the US$4,5 million thus far invested.”