INDEPENDENT shareholders have vented their anger at under-fire Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell, with 54 per cent voting against his reappointment.
But the former West Yorkshire Police chief constable and government drugs tsar will remain in place after receiving the backing of 80.92 per cent of all shareholders, which includes Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, who owns 55 per cent of the company.
Mr Hellawell has been accused by shareholders of overseeing a “catalogue of governance and operational failures” and his reappointment is likely to irk some of the group’s investors, with Aberdeen Asset Management and Royal London having publicly opposed him prior to the vote.
Mr Ashley said: “Keith has my full backing and will be continuing in his role on the basis that he has the unanimous support of the board. I note that many of those who voted against Keith have acknowledged that we have made positive progress since the AGM.”
Yesterday’s vote was triggered after more than half of the retailer’s independent shareholders voted against Mr Hellawell’s reappointment at September’s tumultuous annual general meeting (AGM).
Mr Hellawell has gone on record to say he will stand down from the role should he be voted down again by minority shareholders at the 2017 AGM.
However, in a stock market announcement late in the day Mr Ashley issued another statement.
It read: “I have spoken to Keith Hellawell this afternoon to inform him that I hope that he will reconsider his intention to stand down if he does not receive the backing of a majority of independent shareholders at the 2017 AGM.”
The company added that in view of “continuing frustrations”, the Sports Direct board will meet in the “near future to reconsider all options in relation to its review of corporate governance”.
The 74-year-old Mr Hellawell has presided over a long list of scandals and controversies at Sports Direct. Last year Mr Ashley was hauled before MPs to be grilled over “Victorian” working conditions at the retailer’s warehouse, the company hosted a farcical “open day” at its headquarters, and its chief executive Dave Forsey quit – to be replaced by Mr Ashley.
The Newcastle United FC owner admitted paying some staff below the minimum wage and was taken to task over the firm’s controversial use of zero-hour contracts.