Stobart hires search firm, probes alleged bullying

Carlisle-based Stobart Group — consumed by a lengthy boardroom battle — said on Wednesday it hired search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to help strengthen its board and appointed barrister Alice Mayhew to investigate allegations of bullying and whistleblowing at the firm. 

On July 9, Stobart Group unveiled proposals which it claimed will “seek to unify the interests of shareholders and to provide the framework for the delivery of the company’s strategy to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Stobart Group said its plan will “result in a refreshed and strengthened board, led by a new independent chairman and a new senior independent director” by “no later than the 2019 AGM.”

The battle for control of the board at the aviation, energy and transport firm, which employs more than 1,000 people, came to a head at its recent AGM when former CEO Andrew Tinkler failed narrowly in his effort to oust current chairman Iain Ferguson.

And, despite 51.4% of shareholders supporting an impromptu AGM motion to elect Tinkler to the board, Stobart Group’s other directors then voted to remove Tinkler.

Further, Stobart Group’s chief financial officer Richard Laycock resigned shortly before the AGM.

Currently, Stobart Group’s biggest shareholders include Invesco Asset Management with 25.32% of shares, Woodford Investment Management with 19.94%, “directors and related” with 8%, M&G Investment with 5.38% and Milton Asset Management with 3.18%, according to the firm’s website.

On Wednesday, Stobart Group said in a stock exchange statement: “On 9 July 2018, the board of Stobart Group announced its intention to appoint a leading independent search firm as part of a thorough and rigorous process to refresh and further strengthen the board as well as retain an independent firm to investigate concerns raised about alleged bullying and whistleblowing.

“In respect of the board refresh, the board is pleased to announce that it has appointed Russell Reynolds Associates, a leading independent search firm, to lead the process to identify suitably qualified and independent persons to be appointed as non-executive chairman, as senior independent director and one or more additional non-executive directors.

“The board is also continuing its search to find a suitable interim chief financial officer.

“As part of its brief, Russell Reynolds Associates will engage with significant shareholders and consider any candidates who may be recommended by them. 

“The board is aware that Allan Leighton, who had been suggested by one shareholder as a possible candidate for chairman, has advised that he does not wish to be considered.

“The board has also announced the appointment of Alice Mayhew, a senior employment barrister at Devereux Chambers, to carry out an independent investigation into the concerns raised in recent weeks by certain employees regarding alleged bullying and whistleblowing. 

“Ms Mayhew will be seeking to interview all members of the executive leadership team, among others, as part of her investigation.”