A majority of independent investors Thursday voted against the election of Ferdinand Piëch to the post of chairman at truckmaker MAN in an unprecedented display of shareholder power in Germany.
Mr Piëch, the controversial supervisory board chairman of Volkswagen, was still voted to the post since VW, with its 29.9 per cent stake, controlled nearly half of the votes at the truckmaker’s annual meeting.
But Mr Piëch received only 73 per cent of the total votes, far below the customary Soviet Union-style scores of 99 per cent. That meant slightly more than 50 per cent of the non-VW investors present at the meeting voted against him. Two other VW officials were also elected to the 20-strong supervisory board.
The unusually strong protest comes as foreign investors are beginning to worry more about the state of corporate governance in Germany and in particular the role of supervisory boards. Mr Piëch has drawn considerable criticism for his role at VW where he led a boardroom ousting of his popular chief executive.
Shareholders hailed the event as a strong signal to both Mr Piëch and the seven independent shareholder representatives on the board.
“This is a first for Germany and hopefully it is a good sign,” said Christian Strenger, a member of the government’s corporate governance commission who was proposed by small investors as an alternative candidate to Mr Piëch.
Hans Hirt, head of European corporate governance at Hermes, the UK activist investor, said: “There was a strong message sent out. The main thing is that the non-VW representatives in the supervisory board understand that there are other shareholders out there. Piëch won’t care but it should make the others think about us.”
Shareholders sharply criticised Mr Piëch’s corporate governance record at VW and also praised Hakan Samuelsson, the chief executive who has turned MAN round.
Hermes also proposed there should be a special committee of independent members on the supervisory board to discuss corporate governance issues.
Investors are worried because VW is also the largest shareholder of Scania, the Swedish truckmaker that MAN failed to take over this year. Many are afraid VW could try to tilt a deal in its favour and also possibly oust Mr Samuelsson.
But Mr Samuelsson said he welcomed VW as an investor, while the outgoing chairman, Ekkehard Schulz, said Mr Piëch supported his new chief executive and did not intend to split MAN up.
The annual meeting came as MAN raised its medium-term profitability targets.