Some of the biggest retailers have been forced on the defensive in the face of shareholder uprisings unparalleled in more than a decade.

The showdown at Marks & Spencer’s meeting was well trailed, so unsurprising. But the ferocity of investor attack on Home Retail and Tesco will have rattled both retailers.

Last week 40 per cent of Home Retail’s shareholders voted against or abstained from approving its remuneration report. And Tesco’s extension of the period in which leaving directors can exercise options was opposed by 41 per cent. Like politicians after a close-run election, the pair were reduced to emphasising their first-past-the-post victories and playing down the magnitude of opposition.

As with politicians, bad apples are contaminating good. Just three months ago Tesco posted record profits of £3bn and increased its dividend by almost 10 per cent – hardly signs of a business that is failing its shareholders. But the backlash against some business leaders’ rewards for failure means any deviation from corporate governance norms triggers alarm bells.

Retail chiefs will increasingly have to justify their rewards and roles. As compliance pressure mounts, so does the likelihood that some high-profile directors will really come a cropper – deserved or not.

IPOs won’t come easy

Interest in retail IPOs seems to be hotting up. Pets at Home is the latest said to be mulling a float. Others being watched closely include Poundland and New Look.

Pets at Home has been a recession winner. Consumers have proved unwilling to cut back on treats for their feathered, finned or furry friends – even in tough times.

But any retailer hoping to float will have to be able to tell a compelling story. There is still uncertainty about the sector’s prospects and resentment about the post-float performance of some formerly private businesses.

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