Sir John Peace faces shareholder revolt on all fronts

Jul 17, 2014
<p>Experian shareholders are latest to rebel against serial chairman</p>

Sir John Peace, who serves as chairman at a slew of the UK’s top listed companies, has faced the third in a series of recent shareholder rebellions.

At the latest annual meeting of Experian, the FTSE 100 company Peace founded 30 years ago, investors raised concerns over succession planning at the financial services firm. It was announced shortly afterwards that 30 percent of the company’s backers had refused to support the election of Peace’s apparent successor – Experian’s CEO of six years, Don Robert – to the board.

The credit-checking company had already been warned by UK trade body the Institute of Directors (IoD), which said electing Robert to the board would represent a significant transgression of City corporate governance codes. As a result, almost one in three Experian investors failed to support the proposal.

Oliver Parry, the IoD’s corporate governance adviser, says there was cause for concern that Robert’s chairmanship might affect the new board’s impartiality. ‘A desire to maintain continuity should not come at the expense of the board’s ability to exercise independent oversight,’ he explains.

The IoD’s concerns have been further supported by proxy advisers PIRC and the Investment Management Association, whose members manage £4.5 tn ($7.7 tn) worth of assets.

Though the UK Financial Reporting Council’s guidelines do not proscribe multiple chairmanships, they do suggest existing boards should not agree to executives taking on such a role at more than one FTSE 100 company. Peace has said in the past that holding multiple chairman positions does not affect his performance. ‘In terms of my time commitment, I would be surprised if you found any [of these boards] saying I don’t give the right amount,’ he told the Financial Times last year.

Action at Experian is the latest in three similar revolts at companies where Peace chairs the board: earlier in July, more than half of Burberry’s shareholders voted against the pay package for CEO Christopher Bailey, said to be worth up to £10 mn annually.

Peace also suffered a pay revolt at Standard Chartered, when 41 percent of the bank’s shareholders voted against a new remuneration program. The suggested plans included provisions for the European Union’s recently introduced bankers’ bonus cap, which Peace said at the time had made devising the new policies ‘difficult’.

Though he has now stepped down from his position at Experian, Peace remains chairman at Burberry and Standard Chartered, and also maintains a role as Lord-Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, described as ‘a permanent local representative of Her Majesty The Queen’.

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