The tranquil world of online construction collaboration is not normally rocked by claims of political or financial feuds, but Aconex has unfortunately got caught up in an Australian court wrangle which features two well-known state politicians.
Aconex was founded by Leigh Jasper (son of National Party MP Ken Jasper) and Rob Phillpot, with initial financial backing from various wealthy individuals, including John Gandel, Australia’s fourth richest man, plus some government help: an Australian government COMET grant, and support from AusIndustry’s R&D Tax Offset scheme.
Another investor is Ted Baillieu, Liberal leader in the Victoria State Parliament and reputedly Australia’s wealthiest politician (see Wikipedia profile); Ted Baillieu’s interest in Aconex dates back to a loan of in April 2004, given by Baillieu family company, Hawthorn Glen Pty Ltd. His nephew James Baillieu (formerly a colleague of Leigh Jasper at McKinsey) was – until earlier this year – senior vice-president of business development at Aconex (see The Age article). James Baillieu’s father Ian, Ted Baillieu’s older brother (secretary and another part-owner of Hawthorn Glen), also invested in the company.
This week, an Australian court case has erupted regarding entitlements to buy new shares in Aconex. According to a Melbourne Herald Sun article, Hawthorn Glen lent Aconex $6.5 million in April 2004 at an interest rate of 12 per cent. But in early 2007 when Aconex was offered a better deal by the Commonwealth Bank the companies went into dispute because Hawthorn Glen believed it was entitled to special share purchasing rights over future share sales. Aconex claims Hawthorn Glen was paid $3.5 million compensation as settlement for the loan, and to free the company and its founders from any obligation to the Baillieu family. However, Hawthorn Glen alleges it had first right of refusal on new shares issued by Aconex. In its Federal Court application, the Baillieu company alleged it had until April 30 this year to apply for any shares that had not been bought by other shareholders in a new share issue. But Aconex returned its $6 million cheque and Mr Jasper and Mr Phillpot bought the shares themselves, saying Hawthorn had missed the application deadline, which was April 16.
Given Ted Baillieu’s high profile in Victoria it is quite likely that Aconex will remain in the limelight until the court case is decided.