Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

Farmer Brothers feud heats up as shareholder meeting nears

A member of the family that founded Farmer Brothers is criticizing the company’s relocation to Fort Worth.
A member of the family that founded Farmer Brothers is criticizing the company’s relocation to Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

Farmer Brothers, the coffee company that’s building a big headquarters complex across from Texas Motor Speedway, is busy trying to convince shareholders that moving here from California was a good idea.

Faced with a mutiny by a group led by Carol Farmer Waite, the granddaughter of the founder, the company is pointing to improved financial results as evidence that big changes — including its move to North Texas — were necessary at the century-old company.

In a letter to shareholders last week, Farmer Brothers said its business has made progress since 2012, when Michael Keown was named chief executive officer. It says it has boosted the amount of coffee pounds processed and sold by over 40 percent; reversed the bottom line from a net loss of $27 million in fiscal 2012 to net income of $90 million in fiscal 2016; and seen its stock price more than triple.

On Monday, it reported net income of $1.6 million for its first fiscal quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a net loss of $1.1 million last year.

The dissident group, Save Farmer Bros., says it represents as much as 25 percent of the company’s outstanding shares, though more than half of the shares are in trusts with co-trustees who may not vote with the group. It has nominated three directors for the company’s seven-member board, which includes Jeanne Farmer Grossman, Waite’s sister.

Save Farmer Brothers says that despite the higher stock price, the company is still underperforming, and it has criticized capital spending decisions including investments in e-commerce and new equipment. It has accused the company of misleading investors about the background of a director. And it’s upset about uprooting the company from Torrance, Calif.

The family feud comes to a head Dec. 8, when Farmer Brothers holds its annual shareholder meeting at the Marriott Hotel at Champions Circle in far north Fort Worth, not far from where its new headquarters is rising.

Lockheed’s ‘low boom’ jet for NASA

Remember the Concorde, the supersonic passenger jet that was all the rage back in the 1970s?

First flown in 1969, with its first commercial flight in 1976, the Concorde flew at twice the speed of sound and could carry passengers from New York to London in about 3  1/2 hours, compared to about seven hours on conventional aircraft, according to Business Insider. It stopped flying in 2003.

But NASA took steps this year toward returning to the speed of sound when it awarded a $20 million contract to a team of scientists led by Lockheed Martin engineers to complete a preliminary design for a new “low boom” flight demonstration aircraft using Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST.

Aircraft are prohibited from breaking the sound barrier over the United States because of the sonic boom that is created. After doing feasibility studies and working to understand more acceptable sound levels nationwide, NASA will ask industry teams to submit design concepts for a test aircraft that creates a supersonic thump — or “heartbeat” — rather than a disruptive boom.

Calling it an “exciting program,” Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, said Thursday at Texas Christian University’s Tandy Executive Speakers Series.

Carvalho said he can picture the technology transitioning to the commercial market. It would be used in smaller corporate jets before “revolutionizing” larger, commercial airliners, he said.

“Just like it did when it went from propeller-based airplanes to jet engines, now we go from jets to supersonic engines and now all of a sudden going across the country goes from being a five- to six-hour flight to a two- or three-hour flight,” he said.

Francesca’s coming to Sundance

Sundance Square is getting another boutique.

Francesca’s, a fast-growing women’s clothing and accessories store, will open next spring in space formerly occupied by RadioShack.

The retailer is leasing 1,400 square feet at 400 Commerce St., adjacent to Del Frisco’s Grille and H&M, which opened this year in the former Barnes & Noble.

Francesca’s is designed and merchandised to feel like an upscale boutique, Sundance Square said. Also, the store is known for its diverse and balanced mix of high-quality apparel, jewelry, accessories and gifts at affordable prices, Sundance Square said.

Johnny Campbell, president and CEO of Sundance Square, said Francesca’s has a deep customer loyalty, making it a good fit for Sundance Square. Francesca’s has more than 660 stores in 48 states and the District of Columbia, including six other locations in Tarrant County.

Sandra Baker