Business

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley says if he keeps failing he will go

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Media captionMike Ashley: 'We should be given time'

Sports Direct's embattled owner Mike Ashley says it will be best for him to go if he fails to fix the company.

"In the end if I keep failing and keep failing and keep failing, it'll be best for everybody if I go - but give me some time to see if I can fix the problems first," he said.

At the retailer's annual meeting, independent shareholders opposed the re-election of the company's chairman.

But Mr Ashley asked for "time" to regain the confidence of investors.

"I believe that in 12 months' time we shall see that [chairman Keith Hellawell] does have the confidence of the independent investors," he said.

"I believe that we should be given time to work on the areas of the business where we have had shortcomings."

Angry shareholders

The company had earlier heard from angry shareholders at its annual meeting.

A majority of independent shareholders voted against keeping Keith Hellawell as chairman, despite him having Mr Ashley's backing.

Mr Ashley owns 55% of the company, which said it was "disappointed" and will hold another vote.

Sports Direct executives, including billionaire Mike Ashley, faced calls at the meeting for widespread changes to the way the company is run.

"I take this clear message from our independent shareholders seriously, and I will do my best to address their concerns and earn their confidence over the next year," Mr Hellawell said.

'Robust message'

Excluding Mr Ashley's votes, the re-election of Mr Hellawell was voted down by a margin of 53% to 47%.


'Wad of cash': BBC's Joe Miller reports from Shirebrook

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Media captionMike Ashley unloads wad of £50 notes

It was a telling moment in a day that was supposed to be a perfectly orchestrated piece of corporate theatre.

In a bid to prove to assembled reporters that he was all too aware of Sports Direct employees' daily vexations, billionaire founder Mike Ashley demonstrated a routine search procedure at the company's Shirebrook warehouse.

In his pockets? A huge wad of red £50 notes - like a caricature of a 1980s tycoon.

A brash, outspoken and often controversial figure, Mr Ashley is in many ways moulded by the business culture of the decade in which he founded the sports retail empire.

But the charm offensive on display at this year's annual general meeting was an attempt to rebrand himself, and Sports Direct, in an image more appropriate for an age when negative publicity can hammer a firm's bottom line, as well as its reputation.

Read more: Skirmishes, charm and wads of notes


Earlier in the day it was revealed that Mr Hellawell had offered to resign over the weekend, but stayed on after the board, including Mr Ashley, unanimously backed him to continue and assist in further improvements.

The 74-year-old told independent shareholders that he would stay on to make improvements but would leave next year if he did not get their full backing.

Now, another meeting must be called within three to four months from today to vote on Mr Hellawell's position.

Step down

Legal and General Investment Management, Sports Direct's 11th largest shareholder, called for Mr Hellawell to step down immediately.

Sacha Sadan, the fund's director of corporate governance, said: "At absolute minimum, we believe the current chairman should step down immediately and an external, independent appointment made to oversee management and protect the interests of all stakeholders - including employees, suppliers, and shareholders."

Mike Ashley, dabbing his forehead with a tissue, showed reporters around the firm's troubled Shirebrook warehouse.

Sport's Direct's legal advisers Reynolds Porter Chamberlain carried out a report into its work practices after MPs accused the firm of not treating staff there like humans.

Responding to concerns that employees were suffering ankle and hand injuries because they were expected to work too fast for too long, Mr Ashley said they would look to vary their duties.

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