New Transneft Board Member Hails Its Independent Majority

State oil pipeline operator Transneft signaled a new attitude toward minority shareholders when it elected a majority of independent directors, said Oleg Vyugin, one of the new board members.

"The government is looking for serious changes in Transneft's strategy," Vyugin, chairman of MDM-Bank and a former head of the financial markets regulator, said Friday.

Transneft, which investors have criticized for a lack of transparency, on Wednesday chose a new seven-member board, of which only two have a direct government affiliation. The state holds 100 percent of the voting rights, while private investors can buy preferred shares.

"If the company has clear commercial objectives, it's very easy to make it transparent and more understandable to investors," Vyugin said.

In the past, the company's share price was not "significant" for management, because Transneft was not looking to attract large loans abroad, Vyugin said. That will change if the company becomes more commercially oriented, he said.

Chief executive Nikolai Tokarev said in an interview published on the company's web site in February that he "absolutely doesn't care" about Transneft's preferred shares because all but 2 percent to 3 percent are owned by three people. Tokarev declined to name the three owners, although he said they were wealthy enough not to be concerned whether dividend payouts are "a million less or a million more."

The country's new energy minister, Sergei Shmatko, and Tokarev were elected to the new board, according to the company's web site. The remaining four members are Morgan Stanley's Russia chief, Rair Simonyan, Yevraziisky chairman Sergei Yashechkin, Russian Academy of Sciences vice president Alexander Nekipelov and professor Valery Sorokin, of Moscow's Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas.