Sports Direct's chairman stands down ahead of AGM vote

13 September, 2018, 17:50 | Author: Eric Barnett
  • Debenhams in Ashley’s sights

Sports Direct already owns almost 30 per cent of Debenhams and has seen the value of its stake plummet this year as Debenhams' share price has fallen by 60 per cent since the start of January.

The retailer bought House of Fraser out of administration for £90m last month and owns just under 30pc of Debenhams. "We might have our hands full", he said.

Merging House of Fraser and Debenhams has been discussed at board level, a Sports Direct director has revealed.

"If there's opportunities in the future, then we'll be in a position to take advantage of them".

Simon Bentley, who is retiring after 11 years on the Sports Direct board, confirmed the potential merger at today's company annual general meeting (AGM).

"I made no mention of any merger between House of Fraser and Debenhams, nor did I intend my answer to infer that".

Bentley headed for the exit after the retailer's annual shareholder meeting alongside chairman Keith Hellawell, who has served for almost nine years and been on the receiving end of shareholder concerns about corporate governance failings and the power wielded by its billionaire founder and chief executive, Mike Ashley.

Hellawell said he had "overseen significant improvements in the working practices and corporate governance of the company".

Investors have been concerned about the way Sports Direct treats its workers, as well as the influence of Mike Ashley, who owns 61% of the retailer.

Lawyers representing the Financial Reporting Council had "characterised" Sports Direct's approach as "one of obfuscation and delay verging on obstruction", and Mr Justice Arnold says that criticism is "entirely justified". Almost 37% of independent shareholders who voted, wanted to block his reappointment.

Sports Direct had said before the meeting that Ashley would not be attending due to other demands on his time. In the event, he did attend, but did not speak and went into a meeting room as soon as the official proceedings were over.

Advisory groups ISS and Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (Pirc) had previosuly recommended voting against the re-election of Mr Hellawell because he has lost shareholder confidence and has failed to appoint any women directors to the board.

Mike Ashley, founder and majority shareholder of sportwear retailer Sports Direct, leads journalists on a factory tour at the company's headquarters in Shirebrook, Britain, September 7, 2016.


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