Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell faces toppling by shareholders

Sports Direct’s chairman will be toppled the subsequent week after 3 shareholder advisory companies advocated investors vote against his re-election.

Former policeman and pills tsar Keith Hellawell has devoted to stepping down from the board if most unbiased investors rebel again at Sports Direct’s annual meeting on Wednesday.

He was saved earlier this yr, despite 54pc of unbiased shareholders rebelling against him, after Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley used his majority shareholding to assist the under-fire chairman in a separate vote.
Since the remaining 12 months’ annual meeting, Sports Direct’s boardroom has undergone big upheaval with lengthy-serving Lieutenant Dave Forsey. Suddenly quitting, acting finance chief Matt Pearson stepping down, and sole girl director Claire Jenkins departing.

The employer has employed its first everlasting finance boss in four years, John Kempster, and reinforced its board with unbiased administrators David Daly, a former Nike stalwart, and ex-banker David Brayshaw.

However, investors and Legal & General Investment Management have no longer been soothed by way of the string of changes.

“Although we are recommended with the aid of a number of the nice steps made during the last year, which includes refreshing the board and labor members of the family, we accept as true with progress isn’t always enough to warrant assisting the chairman’s re-election this year,” said Sacha Sadan, director of corporate governance at LGIM, which owns a zero.8pc stake.


“We trust that each one shareholder must preserve to send a strong sign to Sports Direct calling for a trade.”
Mr. Hellawell, who has chaired the corporation for eight years, has been accused of being an “ineffective counterweight to Mr. Ashley’s sizeable control of the business enterprise” using influential proxy advisory company Glass Lewis.

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Pirc have also advocated investors vote against Mr. Hellawell.

Pirc highlighted a string of eyebrow-raising decisions using the company, along with shopping for a £40m company jet; stepping into a makeup licensing settlement with Mr. Ashley’s daughter; and employing Michael Murray, the accomplice of the multi-millionaires different daughter, to steer Sports Direct’s belongings team, as motives to push for an alternate of governance.

“It is crucial for the shareholders to be assured about the board’s potential to symbolize their nice pursuits and now not those of the controlling shareholder. This is no longer the case with the existing chairman, and an opposing vote is consequently endorsed,” stated Pirc’s document. Meanwhile, ISS has criticized Mr. Hellawell for reneging on a pledge to buyers to feed an independent overview of Sports Direct’s working practices and corporate governance and as a substitute deciding on the company’s lengthy-status legal firm RPC.

The investor advisory groups’ hints will maintain even greater importance given how thinly held Sports Direct stocks are using impartial shareholders. Founder Mike Ashley now controls 62pc of the employer after his stake was expanded, although a proportion buyback.

Shareholder Ashley Hamilton Claxton, the company governance manager at Royal London, stated her firm would be vote casting towards Mr. Hellawell, Mr. Ashley, and senior unbiased director Simon Bentley.

“Sports Direct keeps exposing a severe dismiss for shareholders’ views approximately the governance and control of the enterprise. We haven’t any self-assurance inside the ability of the company’s chairman and non-govt administrators to offer effective oversight and guard the pastimes of minority buyers,” she said.

Aberdeen Standard Investments, which holds 0.5pc of Sports Direct shares, has also said it will vote in opposition to Mr. Hellawell’s re-election.

However, Mr. Hellawell can expect the assist of lengthy-term investors Phoenix Asset Management Partners, who keep a 3.7pc stake.

Tristan Chapple, director at Phoenix Asset Management Partners, said: “We have supported his re-election in the past, and we can be voting to support Keith Hellawell on the impending AGM. Sports Direct is a totally properly-run business, and control has a completely remarkable tune record over an extended time period.”

Should investors rise in opposition to Mr. Hellawell, seventy-four, it can make for an uncomfortable afternoon as he will no longer have the presence of display-preventing Mike Ashley to divert attention or leap to his defense.

Sports Direct announced ultimate week that Mr. Ashley would not be attending the once-a-year occasion due to different commercial enterprise commitments and declared there could not be a repeat of last 12 months Open Day.

Ultimately, the retailer’s efforts to be greater obvious following an employment scandal were overshadowed while Mr. Ashley unloaded wads of £50 notes from his pockets in a ridicule safety seek.

Investors clash with Sports Direct chairman.

Sports Direct’s chairman Keith Hellawell has omitted calls by using the majority of unbiased shareholders to stand down, insisting he’s going to stay on for any other 12 months.

Some 52pc of impartial investors voted for Mr. Hellawell to go at the day gone by’s a stormy annual assembly in Shirebrook, Derbyshire; however, his position turned into saved via the aid of founder and deputy chairman Mike Ashley’s 55pc shareholding.

The former drugs tsar and police chief advised The Daily Telegraph that he needed to “take full obligation as chairman… It’s not quality if people lose faith in you. But it is approximately integrity.”
Mr. Hellawell, who revealed in advance in the day that an offer to end was disregarded by way of the board over the weekend, stated he could preserve for the following yr. If situations hadn’t stepped forward, then “impartial shareholders will determine my destiny.”

Mr. Hellawell’s destiny changed into simply one of the many irritating moments in the course of the meeting, at which the pugnacious Mr. Ashley lost his temper with alternate union members. Despite a try and take away the sting from the once a year assembly, Sports Direct faced anger from huge call buyers and Aviva, Legal & General, and Standard Life, who attacked poor leadership. Euan Stirling, the fund manager at Standard Life, which owns five.8pc stated a “full and impartial overview of governance on the organization is needed.”

Shares of the sports activities chain tumbled with the aid of almost 9pc the previous day after it diminished income forecasts, erasing a try to soothe shareholders by using promising to call a “six strikes and you’re out” firing policy and restructure 0-hours contracts. It expects underlying earnings to be around £300m this yr, compared with a forecast of £309m, and £381m remaining years.

During an event lasting greater than six hours, Mr. Ashley repeated several times that he was “sorry” after a report with the aid of law company RPC discovered shortcomings inside the agency.

The billionaire also stated that he had no plans to take Sports Direct private “even when it was at 30p” and believed that it benefited the agency being public, “even though individually it’s no longer the nicest element.” The tracksuit mogul said he could oversee the agency’s turnaround for the next 9 years “due to the fact I’ll be 60 and then I’ll surrender and go away”.

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