David Prosser: HMV's chairman will be busy at M&S

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The Independent Online

Outlook HMV is beginning to look as if it faces a battle for survival. Shareholders in the music retailer have a well-regarded chief executive in Simon Fox, but they could be forgiven for wondering about Robert Swannell, their chairman. Not because Mr Swannell is not up the job – it is just that since Tuesday this week he has had a new demand on his time.

Mr Swannell is, of course, the new chairman of Marks & Spencer. The post is a demanding one, requiring much of Mr Swannell's attention, even though he already knows the company well.

Strictly speaking, there is nothing to prevent Mr Swannell keeping both roles. Corporate governance rules prohibit one person serving as chairman of more than one FTSE 100 company at the same time, but since HMV is a FTSE 250 constituent, the edict does not apply in this case. Nor is there any conflict of interest: HMV and Marks & Spencer both inhabit the high street, but that's about all they have in common. They are certainly not competitors.

Still, with HMV struggling against such difficult headwinds, shareholders will be anxious that their chairman is able to devote his full energy to the company, particularly since he was paid £200,000 for his efforts last year.

For that matter, Marks & Spencer shareholders, shelling out £450,000 for Mr Swannell's services three days a week, will want to be sure their chairman isn't spending too much time worrying about HMV's problems.

Can Mr Swannell combine both jobs? In better times for HMV, maybe, but the company now deserves a chairman who does not have such a demanding second job.