Leighton Names Chairman After Hochtief Independence Dispute

Leighton Holdings Ltd., Australia’s largest construction company, appointed Bob Humphris as chairman after his predecessor resigned in a dispute with shareholder Hochtief AG over board independence.

Humphris, the former managing director of Peabody Energy Corp.’s local unit and a director of Australian Infrastructure Fund Ltd., said in a regulatory statement today that his priority was to appoint independent directors to replace two others who resigned last week.

The builder jumped the most in more than a month in Sydney trading today. On March 22, Leighton dropped the most in 10 months and Standard & Poor’s placed its debt on a negative credit watch after former Chairman Stephen Johns and two other directors quit, saying Essen, Germany-based Hochtief, which holds 53 percent of Leighton’s shares, no longer supported an independent board.

“The board, the major shareholder and management are all firmly committed to Leighton and are absolutely focused on managing the business in the best interests of all stakeholders,” Humphris said in the statement.

Leighton climbed 6.6 percent, the biggest gain since Feb. 13, to A$21.54 at 10:48 a.m. in Sydney after the appointment. Humphris is one of two independent non-executive directors on Leighton’s 10-person board, which also includes the company’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer, three Hochtief directors, and Paula Dwyer, who was named as deputy chairman.

The appointment was first announced in an e-mailed statement from Hochtief yesterday. The German company, which is itself controlled by Spain’s ACS Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA, through a 54 percent stake, said in a statement attached to today’s announcement that there had been no breakdown in relations with Leighton.

“Hochtief regards a good working relationship between management and the board as fundamental to the success of Leighton’s business,” it said in the statement.