The new chairman of Alliance Trust has pledged to get women on to its all-male board after a turbulent year for the Dundee investment firm, which reported a fall in 2015 profits.
Lord Smith of Kelvin, who replaced Karin Forseke as chair at the start of the year, talked of an “eventful year” that saw activist investor Elliott Advisors challenge the firm’s strategy. This led to a management shakeup including the departure of chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox, and left the wealth manager, one of Britain’s oldest investment firms, with an all-male board of seven non-executive directors.
Smith, who also chairs the government’s flagship Green Investment Bank, said he was “acutely aware of the lack of gender diversity on the current board as a result of the recent changes”. He added: “Alliance Trust has long been a leader in the area of board diversity, and this is an issue which I am determined to address at the earliest opportunity.”
It is the first time since 2000 that Alliance Trust has not had a female board member. John Hylands, a former Standard Life finance director, will stand down from the company’s board at the annual meeting on 6 May, giving the firm an opportunity to appoint a female non-executive director.
Garrett-Cox, one of the most high-profile women in the City, who had run Alliance Trust since 2008, left the main board in October and will step down as chief executive of the company’s fund management arm next Friday.
She and former chair Forseke lost a battle with Elliott, the trust’s biggest shareholder, which pushed for change at the top and had two of its nominees appointed to the board last spring. The US hedge fund argued that the group had persistently performed worse than other investment trusts, and also criticised Garrett-Cox’s £1.34m pay package.
Alliance Trust ended the year with £3.4bn in assets and made a total return of 5.4% last year, outperforming the MSCI World Index’s return of 3.8%. It will pay a dividend of 12.43p for 2015, up 0.4% on 2014. It has been selling off non-core investments to focus on its global equity portfolio. However, annual profits before tax tumbled to £145m from £228m.
Richard Troue, head of investment analysis at Hargreaves Lansdown, welcomed the improvements made to the structure of the board and management team, as well as the £6m cost-cutting programme.
He said: “While all this has been going on, the investment team has quietly delivered respectable returns ... Some progress has been made bringing the trust back to its roots – a core, low-cost global equity portfolio that is well diversified, capable of steady growth and a rising income.
“Shareholders will be pleased to see some outperformance, though one swallow doesn’t make a summer. It’s still early days for the investment team, but they are off to a positive start.”
This article was written by Julia Kollewe, for theguardian.com on Friday 4th March 2016 14.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010