Sports Direct to vote again on Mike Ashley bonus

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley will find out today if he is to receive a multi-million pound bonus from Sports Direct

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley, who founded the sports retailer, is currently the majority shareholder in the firm, with around a 58% stake in it.

He also holds the role of deputy executive chairman.

Although Ashley does not receive a salary or other benefits from the company, there have been two attempts so far to include him in the business’ share-based bonus scheme.

The proposals were rejected by shareholders.

Sports Direct will hold a meeting today, beginning at 10am, to vote on a scheme that would give Ashley and undisclosed number of employees 25m free shares - worth £200m in total - if the firm doubled earnings by 2019.

The retailer remains confident of passing the move, which is has been subject of much discussion among commentators within the past few weeks.

Yesterday, the Institute of Directors launched a rare attack on the business.

IoD director of corporate governance Roger Barker, said: “The fact that the board of Sports Direct is attempting once again to push through a hugely generous pay award for Mike Ashley – in the face of shareholder opposition – suggests weak governance at the company.

“This type of pay package would be unthinkable for a senior executive who was not also the company’s major shareholder. It raises doubts about whether the board is acting as an effective independent check on Ashley’s power.”

He added that the IoD felt that, in a public company involving other people’s money, “an independently minded board is essential in order to balance the interests of controlling shareholders, minority shareholders and other stakeholders”.

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley

The group said that while Ashley’s shareholding means his interests are aligned with those of other investors, the scale of his proposed pay “goes far beyond” the level needed to motivate quality directors, as recommended by the corporate governance code.

The IoD’s severe criticism came after Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) told its 60 member funds to oppose the scheme, saying it was inappropriate to “establish an incentive plan with a single board member in mind, especially one whose company has a 57.7% holding.”

Earlier this year, Ashley was in line for a supplemental shares payout potentially worth £73m.

However, despite securing support from some of the company’s largest shareholders, the resolution was withdrawn after failing to attract the necessary support.

On announcing the forthcoming vote last month, Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell said: “Sports Direct’s Employee Bonus Share Scheme is one of the most wide-reaching and successful employee reward schemes in the UK.

“The success of the scheme is demonstrated by the shareholder value created, with the share price reaching an all-time high in April this year and currently six times higher than when shareholders approved the 2009 Employee Bonus Share Scheme.

“The Board and the Remuneration Committee have responded to the feedback received from shareholders to develop a long-term share incentive scheme which not only will continue to motivate the company’s employees but which also recognises and rewards the substantial contribution made by Mike Ashley over many years.

“Based on the stretching performance targets established, this scheme has the potential to create a further substantial increase in shareholder value.”

Sports Direct will announce its preliminary results for the financial year on July 17


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer