Hamish Grossart, the chairman of Royal Doulton, the ceramics company that ended 200 years of production in the Potteries this year, clashed with a Labour MP yesterday over the dire performance of the company over the past six years.
Paul Farrelly, the MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, urged Doulton shareholders to force Mr Grossart out at its annual meeting.
He said Mr Grossart had overseen a slump in the company's share price from above 250p to 9p, a rise in pre-tax losses to £127m and the loss of 4,000 jobs. Most of Doulton's goods are now made in Indonesia. "You have a consistent record of failure," Mr Farrelly said.
Mr Grossart dismissed the redundancies as an "economic reality" and said Mr Farrelly's concerns were "politically motivated" rather than being in the interests of shareholders. He defended his record at the helm of the group since 1998, saying he had saved it from destruction. "Your comments may be appropriate to the House of Commons, but not for a shareholder meeting. This company was heading for the knackers yard and it has survived," he said.
Mr Farrelly, a former financial journalist, demanded to know why Wayne Nutbeen, the chief executive, had been allowed to jet off for a luxury holiday to Zanzibar immediately after announcing the closure of its last UK factory and the loss of 525 jobs earlier this year.
Geoff Bragnall, of the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union, said staff felt "utterly betrayed" by the management, which had in September said UK restructuring was complete.
Mr Farrelly, a shareholder himself, said: "How can a cash-strapped company pay an extra £64,000 to relocate Mr Nutbeen's family back to Australia? The chairman is paid £120,000 for working part time - we obviously cannot afford him full time."
The pay awards, however, were deemed merely "fashionable" by Mr Grossart, who said Doulton executives were paid less than their rivals and had not received performance bonuses for the past four years.
Some shareholders hope that Waterford Wedgwood, the rival ceramics company with a 21 per cent stake in Doulton, will stage a takeover. Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the chairman of Wedgwood, has a personal stake of nearly 3 per cent which he added to as recently as January. Wedgwood yesterday declined to comment on its stake in the group.