Shareholders of bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. sided with Chairman Leonard Riggio on Tuesday as they rejected a slate of board nominees by billionaire investor Ron Burkle and his proposal that would allow him to expand his 19 percent stake.
It's unclear what the preliminary vote, announced at Barnes & Noble's annual meeting in New York, does to the monthslong feud between the bookseller and Burkle. Burkle took the company to court over its "poison pill" shareholder rights plan that limits individual stakes to 20 percent. That lawsuit was dismissed, but Burkle is appealing.
He then put three nominees up for election, out of nine total, and a proposal so that individuals or investors could have a stake larger than 20 percent.
Burkle, who was not at the meeting, said in a news release he would continue to press for changes at the company. Barnes & Noble, the largest bricks-and-mortar book seller in the U.S., has been struggling to compete against new digital competitors with the small but growing e-book market.
The company announced in August it was considering strategic options, including putting itself up for sale, and one group of possible owners includes founder and Chairman Leonard Riggio.
Burkle called on Riggio in his statement to offer "a clear and unequivocal public commitment to support the highest bid for the company."
Riggio did not mention Burkle or his Yucaipa Cos. by name, but he alluded to digs against the existing board made by Yucaipa during the fight.
"They don't know what it is to have a high-class board," he said.
He said the proxy fight was not easy, but he was pleased with the results. He offered no comment about potential owners or other options for the company.
Burkle contended that Riggio is not operating the company in the best interest of shareholders. Barnes & Noble said Burkle is trying to take control of the company without paying a fair price. Both have disputed the other's claims.
Barnes & Noble shares slipped along with the broader market Tuesday morning, falling 26 cents to $16.19.
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