After nearly two years of angry rhetoric, John Williams has pledged to bury the hatchet with Post Properties, the apartment real estate investment trust (REIT) he launched in 1971. Williams signed an agreement in August promising to give up his seat on Post's board of directors and not to sue or disparage the company.
In return, Post will pay its former chairman and CEO $400,000 a year until 2013 and release him from his non-compete agreement, enabling him to pursue other real estate developments. The deal will also avail Williams some perks, including use of a private aircraft service and life and health insurance.
After stepping down as chairman in 2003, Williams became Post's most pointed gadfly. He sued the company, waged a proxy fight to pack the board with his allies and goaded his fellow shareholders to put director pay up for shareholder approval.
Williams this spring charged that Post chairman Robert Goddard's 2003 pay was an “egregious” $450,000. Post countered that Goddard's pay of $100,000, plus his restricted stock and stock options, was in line with other companies.
Post's current CEO, David Stockert, complained Williams' actions were a persistent distraction that cost the company more than $6 million in legal fees and other costs. The truce, hammered out this summer, finally gives some closure to both Williams and his former company — as well Post's shareholders, says Barry Vinocur, editor-in-chief of Realty Stock Review, a REIT journal.
“John Williams was like a fly … making noise and costing Post money,” Vinocur says. “This [agreement] let's Post be Post,” Vinocur adds, allowing Stockert to concentrate on the apartment business “and not deal with the distraction of John Williams.”
Williams is now free to chase his own real estate investment and development deals, Vinocur says. Williams has leased suburban Atlanta office space for some of his partnerships and companies.
Williams is already involved in some projects, including a new office and residential complex near Atlanta's central business district and a mixed-use development on the site of a former public housing project in Marietta, Ga., outside Atlanta.
Williams says in a statement he felt his “activism resulted in positive changes at Post Properties, particularly in the important area of corporate governance.”
In April 2003, during Williams' drive to take back control of the company, Post “de-staggered” its board, putting directors up for annual shareholder approval. “I think John Williams gets some credit for jumping up and down and raising the corporate governance issue,” Vinocur says. “He had an agenda … but if he nudged hard, no matter his motives, the end result was positive.”
Post has since recruited some well-regarded directors, including Douglas Crocker, chairman of Prime Group Realty Trust and the former CEO of Equity Residential, the largest apartment REIT in the country.