Pension funds, by far the biggest investors in British industry, must take a more active stance as shareholders in ensuring that companies are properly run and perform well, a leading industrialist said yesterday.
Sir Christopher Hogg, chairman of Courtaulds and Reuters, warned managers of pension funds, which own 35 per cent of the equity market, that: "You have a social duty, and if you do not do it you will find it done for you by the Government."
Several speakers on the final day of the National Association of Pension Funds' investment conference criticised fund managers for their absentee landlord role. Alastair Ross Gooby, head of PosTel, Britain's largest pension fund and a vigorous campaigner for a more active shareholder approach, said: "Most companies will tell you shareholders do not exercise their responsibilities. This has got to change, and I think at last it is beginning to do so."
Graham Allen, the head of ICI investment management, pointed to a risk from another quarter. "If we are not careful, UK pension funds are in grave danger of discovering that, through their inertia, a small minority of US investors are determining the outcome of contentious issues".
Several senior fund managers said privately the executive pay row has highlighted the need for a more interventionist approach.
Sir Christopher said the damage over executive pay had been caused by a handful of firms. But he cautioned that executive remuneration, because of its complexity, is not a matter for shareholder control. "Non-executive directors have a clear edge over shareholders when it comes to judging annually the performance of executive directors," he said.
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