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February 21, 2013 7:35 pm
A majority of easyJet shareholders have backed Sir Mike Rake as chairman despite a campaign by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the company’s founder and largest shareholder, to oust him.
Sir Stelios had called on fellow shareholders to vote out Sir Mike, who last month announced his intention to resign later in the year, arguing he was not the right man to chair easyJet as it weighed a crucial decision over whether to order more aircraft.
But 55 per cent of voting shareholders disagreed – an increase on the portion that backed the chairman during an earlier attempt to topple him last August. Sir Stelios has a 37 per cent stake in the airline.
Sir Mike pointed on Thursday to easyJet’s strong performance over the course of his tenure, with shares more than doubling since 2010, bringing the airline to the brink of joining the FTSE 100. He said this was thanks to a strategy of moderating growth on which he and Sir Stelios had agreed.
But he also underscored his weariness with the barrage of criticism from the group’s founder: “I would personally like to pay tribute to the management, board and the overwhelming majority of non-family concert party shareholders who have continuously supported the board and management in the successful execution of our strategy in the interests of all our shareholders and indeed all of our stakeholders. This we will continue to do”
A spokesman for Sir Stelios defended the decision to publicly air concerns about the group, including over the potential aircraft order, executive pay and Sir Mike’s other directorships, including as deputy chairman of Barclays.
“What does [Sir Mike] want, cosy chats in smoke-filled rooms?” the spokesman asked. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Sir Stelios also voted against approving the company’s executive pay package, which awards Carolyn McCall, chief executive, shares worth more than £3m at today’s prices – although they can’t be cashed until July. Fifty-five per cent of shareholders approved the report.
But Sir Stelios has won allies among investors for his causes in the past, such as his campaign for the payment of a dividend. The company made a maiden payout in 2011, alongside a special dividend, and doubled it in 2012 to 21.5p, or one-third of net profits.
It is unclear whether Sir Mike’s planned departure would precede a possible aircraft order. Sir Stelios has said a main criteria for a new chairman should be that he or she “hate taking large gambles with our money”.
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