London Stock Exchange chairman wins shareholder backing amid leadership row

Shareholders have voted against the removal of London Stock Exchange Group (LSE) chairman Donald Brydon, ending a bitter battle with an activist investor over his leadership.

An extraordinary general meeting held in London on Tuesday resulted in 79.07% of votes being cast against a resolution calling for his immediate removal, despite claims he pushed out former chief executive Xavier Rolet who stepped down prematurely last month.

The motion, which was sparked by a lengthy row with activist investor the Children's Investment Fund Management (TCI), received 20.9% votes in favour.

The result was widely expected after a string of major investors and shareholder groups threw their support behind the chairman in recent weeks.

The London Stock Exchange Group held its extraordinary general meeting in London (PA)
The London Stock Exchange Group held its extraordinary general meeting in London (PA)

The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) - the group's second largest shareholder with a stake of over 10% - is understood to have backed Mr Brydon as it believed the LSE would not benefit from his immediate departure just as the CEO succession process gets under way.

Similar concerns were raised by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) last week, which recommended that investors oppose the motion.

Asset manager BlackRock - the group's largest shareholder - also opposed Mr Brydon's removal, alongside Aviva and Standard Life Aberdeen.

In its own circular ahead of the meeting, the London Stock Exchange Group's board unanimously recommended that investors voted against the resolution, saying it was "not in the best interest of the company or shareholders as a whole."

The resulting vote means Mr Brydon will stay in his position until 2019, with the LSE having confirmed last month that the chairman would not stand for re-election in two years' time.

Christopher Hohn - who heads up TCI Fund Management and was leading the charge against Mr Brydon - was notable for his absence, but the LSE's chairman received an earful from an independent shareholder who applauded the activist investor for his efforts.

Aubrey Gordon Franklin, from Peterborough, said directors' priorities were misplaced and claimed that the "establishment" was "winning out".

"You're taking the wrong decision, you should have collectively had the guts to stand for the company, for the shareholders, large and small ... and support them, really," Mr Franklin - who said he owns a few thousand shares - said at the general meeting.

Christopher Hohn is the investment manager of TCI Fund Management (PA)
Christopher Hohn is the investment manager of TCI Fund Management (PA)

Mr Brydon ended the general meeting by issuing his own statement, stressing that LSE directors had made "considered judgments" and reached their decision "collectively" over Mr Rolet's departure.

The chairman stopped short of calling out TCI by name but said that the battle had created a "major distraction for the company that is not in the interests of the vast majority of shareholders".

At the start of its campaign, TCI had been calling for the LSE to retain Mr Rolet in his position as CEO until at least 2021, but those hopes were scuppered after the chief stepped down prematurely at the end of November.

It came just days after the raging controversy drew comments from the Bank of England, with Governor Mark Carney saying he was "mystified" by the tussle.

Upon his departure, Mr Rolet hit out at the "unwelcome publicity" which he stressed had "not been helpful to the company".

The former CEO is now on gardening leave for 12 months, during which time he will be paid his £800,000 a year salary in full with a host of potential bonuses - together worth up to £13 million.

Mr Rolet held the LSE's top job for more than eight years, during which time the LSE has seen its stock market value soar from £800 million to nearly £14 billion amid a string of acquisitions.

However, his tenure was marred by a failed £21 billion merger with German rival Deutsche Borse after it was blocked by the European Commission in March - marking the third attempt at a tie up between the two companies after setbacks in 2000 and 2005.