A shareholder group at Haven Bancorp in Westbury, N.Y., is protesting the Long Island thrift's appointment of two prominent financial executives to its board and is soon expected to launch a proxy battle to gain two seats itself.
The $2.9 billion-asset Haven expanded its board late last month by awarding seats to Michael A. McManus Jr., former president of New York Bancorp, and Wally Dahya, a former principal of a New York investment bank.
That decision irked PL Capital LLC of Chatham, N.J., which had been seeking seats of its own on Haven's board. The investment fund, which has been pressing the thrift to find a buyer, immediately fired off a letter to Haven's board of directors opposing the move.
Mr. McManus previously was both president and chief executive officer of New York Bancorp, which was sold to North Fork Bancorp. of Melville, N.Y., in 1998. Mr. Dahya, a private investor, was principal of the New York investment banking firm of Sandler O'Neill & Partners from 1991 to 1997.
PL Capital says it has no quarrel with Mr. McManus or Mr. Dahya, only with Haven's board for not considering PL's nominees. The investor group will now try to win two seats that are up for reelection this spring, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The seats are held by Haven chairman and CEO Philip S. Messina and Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman, who runs a religious television station in Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Catherine Califano, Haven's chief financial officer, would not comment on PL Capital's letter. Richard Lashley, principal at PL Capital, also declined to comment.
PL Capital has been bickering with Haven's directors and its management at least since summer, when it first made a bid for the board seats. Specifically, the investment group is disappointed by Haven's financial performance and high expenses associated with its 60 supermarket branches around New York City, many of which are losing money.
"Haven's weak performance and continued inability to manage its operating expenses is not due to any external, economic, or industry factors," PL Capital wrote in a recent SEC filing. "Its problems are due to a weak management team The thrift cannot justify its independence."
Sources said the two new directors will bring financial savvy to Haven's nine-member board, which largely comprises business people from outside banking. Mr. McManus and Mr. Dahya are also likely to support management's decision to stick with the three-year-old supermarket branching strategy.
"Haven is digging in their heels," said James Ackor, an analyst at Tucker Anthony Cleary Gull in Portland, Maine. "The company has a clear desire to remain independent."
Who will win the proxy battle, however, is anyone's guess.
"It will be a close and contentious fight," said Mark Fitzgibbon, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill.