Ousted James Hardie CEO rejects claims over conduct, considers legal action

FILE PHOTO: A James Hardie factory is seen in western Sydney.

(Reuters) -The former chief executive of James Hardie Industries said on Monday he was considering legal action against the Australian building materials giant, which fired him last week citing concerns over his conduct and management style.

The world's top fibre cement products maker on Friday fired CEO Jack Truong, saying dozens of top executives had threatened to quit due to his conduct, which was not rectified despite repeated calls to do so and breached its code of conduct.

Executive Chairman Mike Hammes later said on a conference call that he had urged Truong to change his behaviour but a "sincere change" had not occurred.

"I was blindsided by the termination and unequivocally reject the assertions made by Mr. Hammes and the company," Truong said in an emailed statement early Monday.

"I'm ... proud of the progress we made in building a culture of inclusion and respect with our more than 5,000 devoted employees. Based on employee and customer feedback, it was clear that they recognised our progress," Truong added.

Truong's departure came at a time James Hardie has ridden a pandemic housing boom to record profits, and highlighted the growing importance firms are putting on executive conduct beyond just earnings and dividends.

A spokesperson for James Hardie said the board had "provided clear feedback and counselling on the impact that Truong's behaviours were having on his colleagues on multiple occasions" before terminating his employment.

"This decision was in the best interests of the company, its people and the delivery of its strategy," the spokesperson added.

Brokerage Citi said it saw little cause for concern in the short-term from Truong's departure, but that the company's strategy may have a different feel over the medium-term when Hammes retires.

(Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)