Trust dispute

Scottish Mortgage chair targeted in board spat

Fiona McBain: complete confidence

Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust has been engulfed in a boardroom bust-up involving a non-executive director and the chairwoman Fiona McBain.

Amar Bhide accused Ms McBain of lacking any independence and presiding over a board with no investment experience.

He told the Financial Times that Ms McBain, a former CEO of Glasgow-based Scottish Friendly, was “long past the point at which she had any independence and her role so far as I can see is to protect managers from criticism and questioning”.

He was reported as having been “removed” from the board of the Baillie Gifford owned trust on Thursday, but the Edinburgh-based FTSE 100 company issued a statement late yesterday afternoon saying: “Contrary to recent press speculation, the board can confirm that, at present, Professor A Bhidé remains a director of the company and has not resigned or been removed.”

Mr Bhide, a business professor at Tufts University Massachusetts and non-executive director since 2020, criticised the composition of the Scottish Mortgage board and questioned its ability to manage its £3 billion portfolio of unlisted assets.

On the assumption he had been ousted, he said he felt he had to speak out, adding that he had clashed with Ms McBain over the process to appoint two new board members. He said he was concerned about the trust’s large positions in private companies and questioned whether it had the expertise to manage them.

“In my opinion they do not have the capabilities and governance clout to be able to monitor the illiquid investments on which there is little audited information in the public sphere. The fact that you’ve pulled it off for the last ten years has been due to an utterly aberrant period in financial history. Don’t delude yourself that you can keep playing this game.”

He added: “My concern is that no one on the board has any professional investment experience. This board desperately needed people who knew what they were doing.”

Scottish Mortgage is a £9.5 billion investment vehicle that invested heavily in technology and emerging company stocks such as Tesla and made some big gains.

But a sell-off in tech stocks over the past 18 months has seen its fortunes reverse and its shares are half their peak value.

Ms McBain has been a director of Scottish Mortgage since 2010 which, according to Mr Bhide, means she is “long past the nine-year date at which you are supposed to retire”.

In yesterday’s statement Ms McBain said: “As chair of Scottish Mortgage, I have complete confidence that Scottish Mortgage’s board provides robust governance and oversight.

“Current topics such as short-term volatility and the company’s exposure to private companies have been debated at length and will continue to be scrutinised by the board.

“The board is convinced that the managers are taking the right long-term investment approach and building a portfolio of exceptional growth companies that can deliver for shareholders over five years or more.”

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