Blog: Dean BestWere you nervous, Sir Stuart?

Dean Best | 9 July 2008

There was an awful lot on the agenda at Marks & Spencer's AGM this afternoon, not least the controversial re-election of executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose.

The UK retailer has been dogged by a swathe of media reports leading up to the event - primarily sparked by disappointing results and a profit warning this time last week.

By 3.45pm GMT the meeting had been running for nearly two hours and a croaky, under-pressure Rose seemed to be losing patience with a seemingly endless list of shareholder questions.

But then came the big event, with resolutions to be passed including Rose's own re-election as executive chairman, and you could cut the tension with a knife.

Speculation beforehand indicated that a third of institutional investors could vote against Rose in the belief that him having the combined roles of chief executive and chairman contravenes corporate governance guidelines.

Proposing Rose's re-election, deputy chairman Sir David Michels addressed shareholders with Sir Stuart's impressive CV, which includes being CEO of two of the UK's other top retailers - Arcadia Group and Argos - and turning M&S itself into a company with GBP1bn (US$2bn) profits last year.

But with profit warnings, shares plummeting and takeover talk in the background, there was an uncomfortable feeling of "what if" in the air.

Sir David tried to rationalise the situation with a joke, asking "Are you nervous Stuart?", and soon enough his re-election was indicatively carried through.

After the week just gone, most people would be questioning whether they wanted such an intense annual corporate grilling for the next three years.

But as Sir Stuart joked during today's address, he's quite happy to "take the CEO hat off and put the chairman's hat on" from time to time.

Joe Ayling


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