Bob Diamond suffers shareholder rebellion at Atlas Mara

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The Independent Online

Zeus seems to have chucked a stray thunderbolt at the financial titan that is former Barclays boss Bob Diamond. Will he and his Atlas Mara now have to hold up the heavens as punishment?

Well perhaps not. As thunderbolts go, an 8.95 per cent vote against his re-election to the board of the Africa-focused financial services group he co-founded represents more of a squeak than a full-throated roar.

The issue appears to have been caused because Glass Lewis, a proxy voting firm, raised an issue about Mr Diamond’s role as a member of Atlas Mara’s audit committee.

This violates what it – and I for that matter – consider to be best practice. Given the importance of its function, audit committee members really ought to be fully independent non-executive directors. Mr Diamond can hardly be considered as that.

Privately, the point has been made to me that he does at least have experience of the field and so he took on the role in the company’s early days when there were only a few directors to call on. Which is fair enough, I suppose. Setting up a business, even when you are a multimillionaire, is stressful, and involves a certain amount of squeezing square pegs into round holes until the show is fully on the road. His role on the audit committee may soon come to an end, because Atlas Mara has been busily appointing new directors with lots of experience in all sorts of relevant fields.

I’m told the issue wasn’t actually raised by investors in the run-up to the vote, and that the company is a shade perplexed at the result. There is even speculation that a shareholder or two might have just handed their proxy forms over to Glass Lewis. The point being that at least they are doing something. At least they are hiring a credible voting adviser to help with decisions on issues like this if they lack the time and/or the resources to handle it in-house.

The levels of engagement by investors with the firms in which they invest are atrocious. It says it all that the vote against Mr Diamond can be characterised as progress. But progress, of a sort, it is – and we should welcome that. Before we start pushing for more. Much more.

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