Dell founder Michael Dell

Five chief exec vs shareholder showdowns

You can't open the business pages these days without reading about in-fighting between CEOs and their shareholders - we take a look at some of the best brawls.

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The life of a chief executive isn't easy. Not only do they spend their days worrying about slipping into their red, wondering if they should buy that plucky start-up or panicking about whether the logo redesign uses the right shade of blue – now, shareholders are increasingly trying to wade into business decisions.

Just look at last week's papers. Dell founder Michael Dell is scrapping with his largest shareholder, billionaire investor Carl Icahn. Dell is seeking to privatise his eponymous company so he can take ultimate control and make the changes he feels necessary to save it.

Icahn, however, isn’t happy with the offer of $24.4bn ($13.65 per share). He feels the company is worth more and is encouraging other shareholders to revolt. Cue mud slinging.

It’s nothing new. CEOs and shareholders are often at loggerheads. We look at some of the highest profile spats….

Round one:

Stelios Haji-Ioannou vs Easyjet CEO Carolyn McCall

Some people just won’t let go. Stelios, who founded Easyjet in 1995 when he was just 28, is no longer at the helm of the low-cost airline but likes to stick his oar in. He likes it a lot. Now the majority shareholder, with a 37% stake in the FTSE 100 company, the Cypriot entrepreneur regularly moves to block plans by CEO Carolyn McCall.

A quick sweep over the headlines this week and you’ll see the latest fracas with McCall. The CEO’s plans to buy a new fleet of Airbus aircraft were met with a challenge from Stelios. But the entrepreneur's fellow investors have voted for the purchase to go ahead. McCall may have won this battle - but she has a long war ahead of her...



Round two:

Cynthia Carroll vs shareholders at Anglo American

Former FTSE 100 boss Cynthia Carroll paid the ultimate price for her battles with shareholders when she stepped down in 2012 amid growing impatience from investors. The CEO insisted that the choice to step down was her own, but it came following a summer of unrest at the companies 70% slump in profits.

Not one to go without getting the last word, Carroll, who left earlier this year, made sure shareholders knew what she thought of them before exiting, saying they needed to 'rein in' expectations or get out of the mining sector.


Round three:

Steve Jobs vs Apple boss John Scully

An oldie but a goodie. Having founded Apple in the late seventies, Steve Jobs headhunted Pepsi CEO John Scully to take the top position at the computer manufacturer in 1983. Jobs, a founder and shareholder, stayed at the firm as 'chief visionary'.

The relationship between the two men began to break down as sales floundered: unsurprisingly, a power struggle ensued. Jobs tried to mount a case against Scully but it turned on its head when the board of directors sided with Scully and removed Jobs’ managerial duties. Again, somewhat predictably, he quit a few months later - but had the last laugh in 1996, when he made his triumphant return and led the company to success.


Round four:

Redrow's Steve Morgan vs investors

Steve Morgan and Redrow have an interesting history. Having floated the company and stepped down as chairman in 2000, Morgan slowly began building up his shareholding over time, before staging a boardroom coup in 2009 and turfing both the chairman and the chief executive out.

In 2012, in the face of falling share prices, he decided the way forward was to take company private again. He mounted a bid worth £610m for the company  but was met with ‘all-out war’ as investors Fidelity felt the price wasn’t right. Morgan was forced to drop his bid minutes before a takeover deadline.


Round five:

WPP shareholders vs Sir Martin Sorrell

Not even a knighthood can save you from shareholder wrath once they have a beef with you. WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell was one of many CEOs caught up in what was daubed the ‘shareholder spring’ in 2012.

Sorrell's team was left to fight his corner in the face of a revolt by shareholders who felt his pay package was unjustified. Sorrell, though, managed to win his shareholders around eventually and get majority support for his remuneration. All went quiet until this year, when almost exactly the same argument flared up again. Presumably 2014 will see some action too…

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