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Venator Management Wins Vote

July 17, 1999|From Times Wire Services

BRADENTON, Fla. — Venator Group Inc.'s management, struggling to transform the former Woolworth Corp. into a sporting goods titan, received a vote of confidence Friday from stock owners in a contentious feud with the company's largest shareholder.

Venator shareholders turned down an insurgent slate of candidates for the board from investment firm Greenway Partners, with more than 70% in favor of the four nominees endorsed by Venator, Chief Executive Roger Farah said at the company's annual meeting.

Also voted down was a bid by Greenway, which owns 14% of Venator's stock, to return to the Woolworth name in place of Venator, which is Latin for hunter.

"We think this is a landslide victory and a clear endorsement" of the company's new direction, Farah told about 200 people attending the shareholders meeting.

Alfred Kingsley, senior managing director of New York-based Greenway, told shareholders before the vote that he thought changes were needed because of the company's recent poor performance.

"We don't do these things lightly. The record speaks for itself," Kingsley said.

The company has attempted to bolster its profit by reducing costs and closing more than 4,000 stores--including the entire chain of Woolworth dime stores and all of its Kinney Shoe stores.

It is now mostly a sporting goods chain, with stores including Foot Locker and Champs Sports. It also runs Northern clothing stores, the San Francisco Music Box and Afterthoughts, which sells accessories. The meeting was held at its Champs headquarters.

Farah said he believed conditions were improving both for the company and the athletic apparel industry.

Greenway's one successful effort was adoption of a nonbinding resolution recommending that the company either eliminate a "poison pill," a bylaw provision which makes hostile takeovers prohibitively expensive, or put the question of scrapping the takeover defense to a shareholder vote.

On the New York Stock Exchange, Venator closed up 13 cents at $11.75. The shares were trading at about $28 two years ago.

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