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Rich sets off on a new course

Different approaches to the managed fund research process has caused rifts at Morningstar.

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 1:27AM

by Philip Macalister

Graham Rich may have been dumped as the chief executive and publisher of Morningstar Research, but that hasn't stopped him establishing a new business.

"I'm working...in preparation for some new business initiatives which will supersede what I was involved with at Morningstar," he says.

However, he won't disclose exactly what he is doing, or with whom.

While Rich formally got dumped as the head of Morningstar over the weekend, he was working in a new office for the new business venture yesterday.

"I've got a group of folk who have been somewhat aware of what's going on, or more fully aware of what's going on, and so consequently had office facilities to move into today (Monday)," he says.

Morningstar's new joint managing director, Bevin Desmond says she would not be impressed if Rich was working on establishing a new research business.

"I think that it would be a conflict of interest for him to remain a shareholder of Morningstar downunder and to compete against that business."

One option open to Rich is that his company Fiduciary, which owns 40% of Morningstar Research, exercises its put option and sells its shares to fellow shareholder, Chicago-based Morningstar Inc.

While it is an option no decision has been made over this yet, Rich says: "I've not yet decided anything in the context of that."

Rich says the legal battle he lost on Friday was just "one step in a process" and further legal action will follow.

It is likely he will now add an unfair dismal suit to his barrage of legal challenges against Morningstar.

The other challenges relate to his allegations of "oppressive conduct (by) Morningstar Inc directors, breach of their directors' duties and breach of contract."

It's unclear exactly what all these allegations relate to, however they do include:

  • Each shareholder had different ideas about where the company was going. Rich claims that Morningstar Inc only wanted to be involved in quantitative research, while the research model used by his former company, FPG Research used quantitative and qualitative methods.

"Morningstar internationally is very well known for the fact that it does not engage in qualitative research," he says.

He goes on to allege Morningstar Inc didn't understand the Australasian market: "One of the primary differences... is what I would describe as an ignorance of the local market in Australia and New Zealand."

Desmond disagrees saying that Morningstar Inc does a lot of qualitative research in the US, however instead of wrapping it up into ratings it does it through an editorial process.

She says one of the big successes for Morningstar Inc had been that it has simplified the research process.

One of the US company's frustrations with Morningstar downunder was that its processes hadn't changed much and it hadn't taken advantage of the knowledge the Morningstar group has gathered by operating in 15 other countries.

"The research process here has not changed based on the knowledge of how things are done in different markets."

  • A claim that Morningstar Inc breached its contract in the joint venture by not bringing its resource in the US down under.

Desmond says Morningstar Inc was committed to making available its technology, brand and operations to help Morningstar downunder develop products for the local market.

"We didn't want Morningstar in Australia and New Zealand to be a sales office we wanted them to be a full-fledged operation so it could take advantage of these products and make them even better for the local market and that was in conflict with what Mr Rich wanted to do."

  • The process by which Morningstar Inc early this year managed to move to the position of majority shareholder. Rich questions this and says that his company, Fiduciary, owns more than 40% of the business.

  • The financial state of the Australasian business. Morningstar Inc says the business was laden with debt and was insolvent, consequently it has agreed to put more capital into the business. Rich dismisses the report prepared for Morningstar Inc by insolvency experts Ferrier Hodgson as a stunt saying that neither he, as ceo, nor Fiduciary had any input into the report. However, Desmond says the company's chief financial officer had significant input into its preparation.

You can read Philip's blog here: http://www.goodreturns.co.nz/blog/

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