UK: BRAIN FOOD - Matters for the mind to chew on - Speaking out - Jeremy Hardie, Chairman, WH Smith.

UK: BRAIN FOOD - Matters for the mind to chew on - Speaking out - Jeremy Hardie, Chairman, WH Smith. - Faced with the woolly-hatted, bearded, green-biro-brandishing rabble of WH Smith shareholders at the company's 50th AGM, chairman Jeremy Hardie broke w

by KHALID AZIZ, e-mail: khalida@azizcorp.com. Edited by RHYMERRIGBY, rhymer.rigby@haynet.com.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Faced with the woolly-hatted, bearded, green-biro-brandishing rabble of WH Smith shareholders at the company's 50th AGM, chairman Jeremy Hardie broke with tradition and made a plea for questions to be kept to the end.

However, shareholders ignored him and fired questions ranging from queries about a cock-up over dividend payments to whether the word 'sex' or 'sexual orientation' should be used in the company's employment policy. Hardie deftly parried these and did, indeed, defer answering to the end. First blood to the chairman.

With the shareholders suitably rebuked, Hardie progressed through the formal business. However, his steely nerve deserted him momentarily when he came to the resolution on executive pay. There was a distinct waver in his voice as he meekly enquired if there were any questions on this issue. His body language gave away that this was the resolution they were most worried about getting through. (It went through without opposition).

He should steer clear of poker games.

Overall, though, nine out of 10 for chairmanship skills and general presentation, which is more than can be said for the other eight directors sitting on the platform. You don't look supportive if, when your chairman is in full flow, you look bored. The message is simple: if your board won't listen attentively, why not just have the chief executive and finance director on the platform and leave the rest of the wise monkeys to sit in the front row of the audience, to be called on as and when required.

Key moment: Hardie's body language betrays his anxiety over executive pay.

Key lesson: Rehearse the toughest parts of a speech.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth?

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