Wembley chairman in hot seat

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The Independent Online
Claes Hultman, the incoming chairman of Wembley, yesterday came under fire from shareholders in the beleaguered leisure group over his contractual two days a month working arrangements.

One shareholder said they meant that Sir Brian Wolfson, who steps down from chairman to be Mr Hultman's deputy, would still be calling the shots.

But Mr Hultman dismissed those remarks immediately after the meeting at the Wembley conference centre, the company's prime asset, the national football stadium.

"As chairman I will set the board agenda. A lot of people have put faith in us which is a tremendous responsibility. We need to make the assets sweat.

"The chief executive and finance director report to me, and no one else. I am running the company.

"Two days a month are not enough, but there will be an initial burst of energy. This is the eighth or ninth company I have restructured," he said.

His working hours were one item on a long list of grievances aired by shareholders, who were particularly upset about the dilution of investments from the issue of 4 billion shares arising from the restructuring.

"It's nice to say I've got 10 million shares, but it reminds me of buying a cup of coffee in Milan with lira," said one small shareholder.

Such is the complexity of the restructuring that professional advisers, bankers and lawyers outnumbered shareholders.

"I'll direct my question at the board and not that lot over there, because they charge £250 to £300 an hour," another shareholder commented.

Sir Brian Wolfson, who will earn £155,000 a year in his demoted role, listened impassively to the criticisms.

"The sad and painful reality is that ordinary shareholders are always those that suffer most," he replied to a strong assault made by Maurice Mistovski, a shareholder who had called for Sir Brian's resignation at previous meetings.

"I paid over 150p a share, and I've had no apology from you over the years. The preference shareholders get 70p for their investment, and I get 1.75p. I consider that a take-on," Mr Mistovski said.

"I did advise you not to go into America. Everyone who's gone in has got his fingers burnt. You went in blindfold."

His remarks, however, drew scorn from another shareholder, who said: "No one forced us to buy shares. I think you have to question your own judgement."

Voting the restructuring through was academic: Sir Brian was armed with more than 135 million proxy votes.