Clarks chairman plays his best role

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The Independent Online
'THE last time I was on a stage like this I was playing one of the ugly sisters, I hope my performance is better today,' said Walter Dickson in his opening address to the gathering of the Clarks shoe clan in Glastonbury yesterday.

He did not do badly. Shareholder after shareholder - with few exceptions - admonished the so-called gang of four directors that has been trying to remove him as the chairman.

It was peace he was after, not a family feud. 'No amount of tinkering of the board will resolve these tensions. The only way out of the crisis may be to change the ownership of the business and remove these tensions.'

C&J Clark, the parent company, has received approaches from four companies to take control away from the fifth generation of the founding Quaker brothers, Cyrus and James.

Times are hard. Despite being Britain's best-known shoes, Clarks has had inches of tread wiped off profits by the recession.

Mr Dickson said it had finally become clear to the divided factions in the boardroom that the external takeover moves 'best be handled by a board acting in concert'. The dissident requisitioners of yesterday's gathering obliged, agreeing to vote to adjourn the meeting until next year.

The veiled climbdown by the dissidents, however, was not enough for some small shareholders. One, David Edwards, raised the roof of the tiny Town Hall, packed to capacity with 300 shareholders. 'What worries me is that it is not appreciated that the board needs a range of skills. It is beyond my comprehension that a board which has six family members can best be represented by throwing you (Mr Dickson) off and putting on two other family members.

'It is sad to see this company dragged down by fruitless arguments. It gives me no great pleasure to say of Lance Clark (leading dissident) that he has acted with irresponsibility. I hope he will consider his position on the board.'

Mr Clark replied: 'We will not stand in the way of a recommended bid to shareholders.'

The feuding has cost Clark pounds 250,000 in advice and legal fees.

(Photograph omitted)