Vandevelde slams press for 'harmful' treatment

Departing Marks & Spencer chairman Luc Vandevelde has slammed the savagery of the British press and has warned of an increasingly 'unhealthy' climate for FTSE 100 chairmen.

Vandevelde was once lauded for his structural transfor-mation at M&S, but has been criticised since March after taking a non-executive position at French giant Carrefour while M&S's recovery faltered.

He said: 'I assure you that the board has not asked me to go. I could easily have stayed for a number of years. It's just media pressure that has put us in a rather awkward position.

'It is clear there is an appetite in this country for this kind of news,' the Belgian complained, referring to repeated calls for his departure, which were eventually answered on May 10. He added that corporate governance guidelines - as enshrined in the Higgs report - meant chairmen were now judged on 'how well you read the written rules, compared with how well you have made the right decision'.

He said of the general climate surrounding FTSE companies: 'If this trend continues, you are going to have difficulty finding chairmen for FTSE 100 companies.' Both M&S and Sainsbury's are currently seeking chairman.

At Carrefour, Vandevelde represents the interests of the largest shareholder - the Halley family - following the death in December of his friend and previous incumbent, Paul-Louis Halley. Vandevelde also chairs Change Capital Partners, a Halley investment vehicle.

Vandevelde insisted his position at Carrefour was non-executive and would remain so. He said media reaction to his appointment was 'harmful', particularly against a background of such 'sad circumstances'.

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