Predictions of a stormy reception for M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose blew over at M&S’s AGM yesterday, with the urbane Rose playing up to the crowd with his usual market trader act.
Concerns about Rose’s dual role as chief executive and chairman were the furthest thing from many shareholders’ minds.
Questions from the floor ranged from concerns over the lack of availability of gentlemen’s thermal underwear to gripes over ill-fitting shoes.
Rose was, at one point, upstaged by a shareholder from Weston-super-Mare, who – spouting innuendo – offered to teach clothing boss Kate Bostock how to dress men and complained that in his local store he had “seen better toilets when he was in the Navy in the seedy streets of Singapore in World War II”.
Many of the questions were fawning and Rose had shareholders eating out of his hands soon after he brandished a green underwear set from a clothes rail and quipped: ““Don’t worry guys I am not going to put it on.” And so the show began. And shareholders lapped it up.
Even the London Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) was almost apologetic in making its case for special resolution 16, calling for Rose to step down as chairman a year early in July 2010. A LAPFF representative said it was basing its complaint on “principle rather than personality”.
So it was that the suave Rose emerged victorious, saying he knew he would quash the rebels. However, dissenting shareholders are unlikely to take the defeat lying down.
The sooner M&S appoints a new chief executive – due in 2010 – the sooner it can have the space and time Rose has called for to turn its fortunes around.
Conversely, at JJB no amount of chirpy banter will erase shareholders’ concerns over chairman Sir David Jones’ undeniably stupid mistake.
This week’s revelations that Jones took out a £1.5m personal loan from Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley and didn’t declare it when he joined JJB’s board in 2007 have whipped up another storm. He should rightly be berated and should have known better.
It has also muddied the already murky waters in the sports fashion world. It is no coincidence that the leak of the details of the loan coincided with JJB’s decision to raise £50m, enabling it to become a stronger contender in the sportswear world.
If Jones has to step down – as suggested by some – then he is playing straight into rival Sports Direct founder Ashley’s hands.
JJB shareholders are right to be concerned, but they should also remember that Jones successfully turned around retail giants Next and Morrisons. They should also remember that a very public shareholder row (a la M&S) will ensure that Jones is forced to take his eye off the ball and that Ashley emerges victorious.