How Green Mountain stock plunge triggered chairman's ouster

Green Mountain Coffee ousted its founder as chairman after he sold company stock during a blackout period. Founder says he was blindsided by sudden fall of Green Mountain Coffee stock.

Peter Huoppi/Burlington Free Press/AP/File
In this 2002 file photo, Robert Stiller poses for a photo in Waterbury, Vt. The founder of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., who was ousted from the company's board leadership for a stock sale that violated company policy, has also dumped his $50 million stake in Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc.

The founder of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., who was ousted as chairman for a stock sale that violated company policy, said the transaction was triggered after he was caught off-guard by a swift drop in the coffee maker's stock price.

Robert Stiller, who also dumped his $50 million stake in Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., said in an interview Wednesday that he didn't expect Green Mountain's shares to fall so steeply last week. The decline forced him to sell the shares on a margin call, which happened to occur during a blackout period in which the company prohibits the sale of its stock by insiders.

Investors are subject to margin calls when they put a stock portfolio up as collateral to borrow cash. When share prices take a tumble and the value of the collateral drops, banks require borrowers to cover the gap.

Green Mountain, which produces coffee and the Keurig single-cup coffee maker, saw its stock lose roughly half its value last week after the company lowered its profit forecast due to slower sales growth. That followed a fall earlier this year after rival Starbucks Corp. announced plans to introduce its own single-cup brewing machine in time for the holiday season.

Stiller said he received a call from Deutsche Bank on Friday about an hour and a half before the market closed, telling him that he needed to come up with cash or sell shares.

"They changed what they would lend to me from 60 percent to 30 percent," Stiller said.

He liquidated his other positions, including his stake in Krispy Kreme, as a result. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday shows Stiller sold his 8 million shares of the doughnut chain at a price of $6.15 each. Stiller was the second-largest shareholder of Krispy Kreme, according to FactSet. A representative for Krispy Kreme could not immediately be reached.

Stiller, who founded Green Mountain in 1981 and served as its president and CEO until May 2007, noted that he is retired and that his stock portfolio is his main source of income. As for reports that he leads a lavish lifestyle, he said he bought a yacht five years ago because he enjoys traveling and being on the water with friends.

"Maybe I shouldn't do these things, but I've worked all my life building this company and it's been successful," said Stiller, 68. "I want to enjoy it. Whether it's living lavishly, I think that's all relative."

On Tuesday, Green Mountain said it was removing Stiller and lead director William Davis from their leadership roles and suspending their pay indefinitely because of stock sales that violated company policy. Both men had faced margin calls because of the drop in stock price, which subsequently forced them sell a total of more than 5.5 million shares.

In 2011, Stiller received compensation worth $175,296 for sitting on the board, including option awards worth $74,296 and $50,000 in fees for serving as chairman, according to Green Mountain's proxy filing with regulators in February. Davis received cash-and-stock compensation of $164,296 for the year, including lead director fees of $15,000.

Although Green Mountain bars individuals with inside information from trading its stock during certain periods, Stiller said the company was aware that his stock served as collateral in a margin account. Green Mountainhas said it is requiring Stiller and Davis to settle all their outstanding margin loans by the end of this year.

Green Mountain said Wednesday that no other senior executives have margin accounts. The Waterbury, Vt.-based company's internal trading policy was revised in December of last year to prohibit margin accounts, pledges of shares or similar transactions. Stiller and Davis were allowed to retain certain margin accounts that were in place before the ban went into effect.

Stiller now owns roughly 8.34 million Green Mountain shares, the company said. If he sold all the stock in his margin accounts, his stake would shrink to about 1.9 million shares. Davis owns 436,786 shares, and his stake would shrink to 36,598 in that scenario.

Shares of Krispy Kreme rose 32 cents, or 5 percent, to finish at $6.67. Green Mountain shares fell 11 cents to close at $26.27. The stock is now down over 77 percent since reaching its year-high of $115.98 last September.

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