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The corridors of power...

All this shareholder activism must be putting the wind up our 'captains of industry'. There was once a time when the worst a chairman had to endure was a bit of moaning at the annual general meeting. Not any more.

Sir Ian Prosser, turfed out at Sainsbury’s before he even arrived, is living proof that investors mean business. It’s more than a one-off. Michael Green found that the chairmanship of ITV was not his for the taking, thanks to Fidelity’s Anthony Bolton, the so-called ‘smiling assassin’.

Last November, GlaxoSmithKline was forced to withdraw a controversial £11.5m remuneration package planned for its chief executive JP Garnier. Institutions took a dim view of this US-style largesse.

In May 2002, Jonathan Bloomer, the ‘man from the Pru’, suffered a similar backlash over a share scheme that would have earned him up to £4.6m. At worst he would have received a bonus of £900,000 on top of his £660,000 salary. Prudential withdrew the scheme for reconsideration after institutions expressed concern.

And all this on top of the irritations of the Higgs report, with its attack on the cosy world of the British boardroom.

I wonder what sort of message this sends to prospective business leaders? It comes at a time when headhunters have rarely been busier. The Inland Revenue ð as of last week – was still hunting a chairman to succeed Sir Nicholas Montagu, and there are a couple of vacancies going at the BBC too.

The Institute of Directors has begun the search for a successor to George Cox. Russell Reynolds, the headhunter, is targeting ‘senior boardroom figures with first-hand experience of corporate governance issues’.

Well, that rules most of them out.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor of The Times.

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