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More trouble in store for retailer

Sports Direct’s Ashley in firing line as shareholders rebel

MIke AshleySports Direct executive deputy chairman Mike Ashley and the company’s non-executive directors face a shareholder rebellion at the retailer’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Royal London Asset Management (RLAM), which owns about 1% of Sports Direct shares, said it had lost faith in the board over corporate governance issues.

RLAM specifically pointed to company founder, and near-9% Rangers stakeholder Ashley’s poor attendance record at board meetings.

“We have lost confidence in the board and are very concerned about the long list of corporate governance failings that have not been addressed,” said Ashley Hamilton Claxton, Royal London’s corporate governance manager.

“We question how a board can effectively function when the executive deputy chairman fails to attend four board meetings, even if they are unscheduled,” he added.

Royal London also plans to vote against the re-election of Sport Direct’s non-executive directors for a second consecutive year.

It cited the board’s decision to lower earnings targets for the executive directors’ bonus scheme as “yet another example of poor governance”.

“It is unacceptable by UK standards and serves as yet another example of poor governance, so we’re voting against the remuneration report and the share scheme amendment as well,” Hamilton Claxton said.

RLAM will also vote against the changes to the Sports Direct bonus scheme for 2016, after the earnings targets were lowered.

“The board’s decision to lower the earnings targets for the executive directors’ bonus scheme is unacceptable by UK standards and serves as yet another example of poor governance, so we’re voting against the remuneration report and the share scheme amendment as well,” said Hamilton Claxton.

Opposition to the board is likely to be accompanied by an employees’ protest as a demonstration will take place outside the meeting demanding an end to outdated labour practices and the introduction of a living wage.

Chairman Keith Hellawell is among the other directors being targeted. PIRC, the shareholder advisory group, is advising investors to vote against his re-election.

Ashley, who owns a 55% stake in the group, and Hellawell came under attack earlier this year after USC was put into administration by Sports Direct which immediately bought it back with its £15.3 million of debts to staff, suppliers and landlords wiped clear.

Warehouse staff in Ayrshire took the company to a tribunal arguing they were given just 15 minutes notice of its closure.

Further criticism is aimed at chief executive Dave Forsey who is in line to be awarded up to 1m shares – worth nearly £8m.

Protests are being organised under new procedures introduced by the Financial Conduct Authority concerning companies that have a controlling shareholder with a stake of 30% or more.

The guidelines mean the election of non-executive directors must be approved separately by minority shareholders.

 

 

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