The 2nd presentation at the LAPFF conference on Thursday was "Owners and directors: challenges to board", chaired by John Plender, of the Financial Times. Simon Laffin, formerly Finance Director Safeway, former Chair Mitchells & Butler spoke first about the failure of regulators to ensure that British billionaires shareholders behave properly.While Ken Olisa, formerly Non-Executive Director Eurasian Natural Resources Company (ENRS) entertained us with a colourful account of the failure to ensure his Kazakhstan billionaire shareholders behaved any better. He ended up the first Non-Executive Director of a FTSE 100 company to be sacked at an AGM! In his case this is a badge of honour methinks.
Afterwards there was a Q&A. Anne Kvam, Norges Bank Investment Management (Norwegian Sovereign wealth fund) and Stuart Morgan, National Express joined the panel. I asked a question whether having a employee representative on a company board could improve diversity and the necessary checks and balances? Many successful European companies have such representation and they seem to do very well? Anne said she was concerned that there were only 2 firms of headhunters who appoint nearly all Non-Executive directors in the UK and that in Norway a 1/3 of the Board are employee representatives while in Germany it is 50%. Simon was opposed and argued that a company board needed to work as a team and trust each over (not sure what he meant by that?), Stuart didn't think it would be much of a problem, while Ken thought that an employee representative would only represent employees and not the interests of the shareholders.
My response to Ken would have been that he was speaking to an audience comprised mainly of different employers, officers and employee representatives who sit together on pension committees and should be putting the interests of the pension fund beneficiaries ahead of any thing else. All members of a board however they are elected should act in the same way for their shareholders.
I only realised today that by one of those bizarre coincidences that often makes life interesting, Ken Olisa is also the Chair of ThamesReach. This is a housing charity whose members belong to my UNISON branch (I am the branch secretary) who were on strike over pensions and had a picket line outside ThamesReach HQ in Aldgate on Wednesday. It's a small world.