GUS starts hunt for outside directors

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The Independent Online
GREAT UNIVERSAL Stores, the secretive retailer, moved one small step towards meeting the requirements of the Cadbury committee on corporate governance, saying it had begun to search for independent directors.

But it insisted that the question of splitting the roles of chairman and chief executive did not arise because it did not have a chief executive.

Richard Pugh, deputy chairman, said: 'We're obviously on the lookout for non-executive directors. But you can't find them overnight.' Changes would become apparent in the next six to nine months, he hinted.

GUS's only outside director is Sir Phil Harris, but he has held the post for more than the six- year maximum recommended by Pro-Ned, the ginger group promoting outside directors.

GUS is chaired by Lord Wolfson, who controls the Wolfson Foundation, which owns more than 50 per cent of the GUS voting shares. He works there full-time. Beneath him are three 'managing directors'.

GUS was recently labelled 'bottom of the class' on corporate governance by the consultants PIRC: 'There is a combined chairman and chief executive; there are no independent directors; and no audit, remuneration or nomination committees.'

GUS yesterday reported a 6 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to pounds 194.8m in the six months to 30 September. It lifted the interim dividend from 12 3/4 p to 13 3/4 p. Profits increased in all divisions, including the biggest, home shopping, up from pounds 78.2m to pounds 81.5m.

Mr Pugh said trading had improved slightly in the 10 weeks of the second half, although there was a brief decline in the two weeks after Black Wednesday, when sterling fell out of the exchange rate mechanism.

The non-voting A-shares fell 35p to 1618p.