Former board member continues to turns screws on Alliance Trust board

Katherine Garret-Cox
Katherine Garret-Cox

Former Alliance Trust director Tim Ingram has followed up the open letter he addressed to shareholders in the Dundee firm last week and further turned up the heat on the investment house’s current board by claiming that chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox’sremuneration cannot be justified.

Pay for Garrett-Cox (pictured) has almost doubled over five years to hit £1.34 million, despite a sustained period of poor returns for shareholders.

Mr Ingram, the chairman of the investment community representative bodyWealth Management Association, yesterday issued what he described as “challenging questions” to Alliance management, as well as to Elliott Invesmtments, the US hedge fund that wants to shake-up the boardroom of the 127 year-old investment company with three new members.

Last week he issued an open letter to all AT shareholders urging them to vote-in Elliott Advisors’ trio of new non-executive directors and described his latest intervention as an attempt to bring clarity to what has become an increasingly fraught stand-off between Elliott and the current board.

The issue is due to be settled at AT’s annual meeting on April 29 but Mr Ingram renewed his public challenge to demand that AT justify Ms Garratt-Cox’s pay increases during a period when shareholder returns noticeably underperformed and have resulted in the company’s relegation from the FTSE-100 amid its own broker’s statement that “performance has been lacklustre.”

But he also asked Elliott how it and its proposed directors can demonstrate, if elected, their independence, something that the current board has vigorously argued would not be the case.

Opponents to the Elliott move claim it is instead part of an attempt to exist its 12 per cent stake, with no concern for the interests of all shareholders.

The AT board’s position has been backed by former chairman Lesley Knox who did not believe Elliott was acting in the long-term interests of the trust.

Mr Ingram, meanwhile, also described his frustration during his two years as a non-executive director of AT until 2012 at the board’s unwillingness to discuss two particular subjects.

“These were the disposal of its loss-making subsidiaries and the out-sourcing of the fund management which relate to performance,” he stated.

He continued: “Elliott is arguing that performance has been constantly bad and that the board is not addressing the reasons for this and the possibilities for marked improvement.

The solutions, he suggested, were those he wanted to discuss during his time on the board – jettisoning continually loss-making subsidiaries and outsourcing investment management.

He added: “Elliott argues that the costs of running the trust are too high as exemplified by the increases in the chief executive’s remuneration. It has gone up over five years from £700,000 to £1.34 million.”

Alliance Trust believed Elliott’s proposed three new directors would be “the thin end of the wedge” but Mr Ingram said: “one does, perhaps mischievously, wonder: for whom?”

AT saw off a similar challenge from hedge fund Laxey Partners in 2012 but Elliott’s 12 per cent of AT shares compared with Laxey’s then holding of 1.5 per cent represents a significantly more serious threat to the current regime.

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