By Bart H. Meijer
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Akzo Nobel gained shareholder approval on Thursday to spin off its 10 billion euro (£7.41 billion) chemicals division as part of plans to placate investors after the Dutch paintmaker rejected a takeover offer from rival PPG Industries.
The sale of the chemicals operation was described by Chief Executive Thierry Vanlancker as "essential" for further growth of the company amd was backed by 99.9 percent of shareholders in a vote in Amsterdam.
Akzo had clashed with a large part of its shareholder base this year after management refused to negotiate with PPG over a 26 billion euro offer.
The company said at the time that it wanted to "unlock value" by spinning off its chemicals business, either through a direct sale or an initial public offering (IPO). The majority of the proceeds are earmarked for investors, starting with a special dividend of 1 billion euros in December.
Akzo expects the separation of the chemicals division, which has annual revenue of 4.8 billion euros and more than 9,000 employees worldwide, to be completed in April.
Despite overwhelming support for the chemicals spin-off, irritation among shareholders with the way Akzo handled the PPG approach could still be felt at Thursday's meeting.
"Confidence in the supervisory board has still not been restored," said a spokesman for British pension fund investor USS, which last month withdrew former ASML CEO Eric Meurice as its own candidate for the Akzo supervisory board because the company refused to support him.
"That was not conducive to restoring relations with shareholders," said USS, which holds 1.2 percent of Akzo shares.
Other shareholders urged the company to listen to investors in the search for a successor to Chairman Antony Burgmans, who is due to leave Akzo in April.
A compulsory six-month cooling off period for PPG expires on Friday, which means it could return with another bid. But PPG CEO Michael McGarry has said that the company has "moved on" from Akzo and is now seeking other growth opportunities.
Vanlancker recently tried to agree an Akzo tie-up with smaller U.S. paints maker Axalta, but talks ended abruptly when Axalta received a better offer from Japanese rival Nippon Paint.
The Akzo chief told shareholders that the company will now focus on smaller "bolt-on" acquisitions.
($1 = 0.8392 euros)
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Jane Merriman and David Goodman)