Livent stock slides as execs move on

Original staffer Topol latest defector

NEW YORK — Stock in Garth Drabinksy’s theater concern, Livent Inc., has slid 9% in the past few weeks on word that longtime Livent exec Robert Topol had quit, making him the third veteran executive to leave the company in the past four months.

Topol, who has been at Livent since it was founded almost a decade ago, and who has worked with Drabinsky for a total of 15 years, quit to pursue other interests, Livent president Myron Gottlieb confirmed Monday.

Topol’s resignation follows that of publicity exec Lynda Friendly last November and the recent resignation of Norman Zagier, senior VP for strategic planning in marketing.

Topol had originally been responsible for overseeing North American touring productions, a major source of revenue for the theater company, according to Cowen & Co. analyst Paul Marsh, who downgraded the stock as a result of Topol’s departure. Livent stock fell 12¢ to $7.87 Monday, down from $8.62 a week ago.

Marsh said in a note to clients last week that the “complex nature of the company’s operations will require some time for a replacement to get up to speed.” He said he was downgrading the stock in a “wait-and-see for Mr. Topol’s replacement.”

The departure of two other execs, both of whom had also worked with Livent for several years, has raised some questions on Wall Street, but Gottlieb played down the loss of all three execs.

He disputed Marsh’s description of Topol’s duties, noting that another Livent exec, Bill Conner, had assumed responsibility for North American touring operations a couple of years ago, although Topol was still “involved in some of the foreign licensing and looking at some territorial opportunities.”

“When we started Livent, it was a much smaller company,” Gottlieb said. He said the growth meant a reallocation of duties, affecting both Topol and Friendly.

Gottlieb noted that the theater company now had 20 corporate officers which “wasn’t the case a few years ago … There is strength in all of the divisions.”

Gottlieb said that Friendly had started at Livent as a “one-person department for promotion and publicity,” but that many of those duties had been moved to other people. Neither Topol nor Friendly will be replaced by new hires, Gottlieb said.

Zagier, originally from the U.S., has lately been wanting to move back, Gottlieb said, a point confirmed by Zagier.

“I have had a good run … it’s time to move on,” said Zagier, who is still at the company until his contract expires in June. “I have great respect for Livent and its accomplishments, and I think the future for the company is bright.”

Topol did not return calls seeking comment, while Marsh said Monday that he had nothing further to add to his report. Friendly could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Stock Exchange gave Livent the go-ahead to buy back and cancel up to 10% of its shares listed in Toronto and 5% of those on the NASDAQ over the next 12 months.

Gottlieb said late last week that Livent feels its shares are trading lower than they should be and that the buyback is desired to increase their value. Gottlieb added that Livent had no plans to implement the buyback immediately.

Under the rules of the Toronto Stock Exchange, any company wishing to buy back and cancel shares must first issue notice and receive the exchange’s approval. The actual number of shares purchased and the timing of share purchases will be determined by Livent, which will pay the market price at the time of purchase.

(Tamson Tillson in Toronto contributed to this report.)

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