Fund Manager Berkowitz Named Chairman of St. Joe

After a month-long battle with St. Joe's management, mutual fund manager Bruce Berkowitz notched a victory Friday, as the company named him chairman.

Bruce Berkowitz
Bruce Berkowitz

A source close to the real estate firm said along with Berkowitz being named chairman, his deputy Charles Fernandez was named vice chairman.

Former governor Charlie Crist, a Berkowitz nominee, was named chair of the board's nominating and governance committees. The board also decided to eliminate a poison pill planned adopted last month.

"We are moving fast to create a new vision, a meritocracy—where you are paid for performance, no matter your position. We will build a companywith no ceilings," Berkowitz wrote in a memo to St. Joe employees. "However, I will not sugar coat the current situation. St. Joe is losing money, selling valuable assets to cover losses and is under attack."

Berkowitz goes on to write that the company cannot continue on this course for long or there will be no St. Joe and that starting Friday the company will take a new road.

This is the latest turn in a more than month long saga that pitted Berkowitz against the firm's management. Berkowitz, whose $21 billion dollar Fairholme Fund owns close to 30 percent of St. Joe , had proposed in February a board restructuring and hiring a financial advisor to explore alternatives for the largest landowner in northwest Florida. At that time the company, which has lost money the last three years, agreed to hire Morgan Stanley, but not to restructure its board.

It appears Berkowitz's original plan has now been fully adopted. Britt Greene, the company's CEO resigned today as expected and earlier, three other board members said they too would step down.

St. Joe's former chairman, Hugh Durden, will serve as acting CEO for thirty days, by which time the board expects to fill that role permanently. Durden will remain on the board.

Also in the next thirty days, the source says St. Joe will announce both commercial and residential real estate joint ventures and cost cuts that could total up to $60 million dollars.