AAM chief Martin Gilbert ‘on the hunt’ for rebel shareholders
MARTIN Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) and chairman of transport giant FirstGroup, is said to be “hunting” for the anonymous shareholders who have expressed disquiet about his twin roles.
Gilbert, who co-founded AAM in 1983 and has chaired FirstGroup since 1995, has been at the centre of investor unease in recent days amid fears he may be overstretching himself. One unnamed “top ten” shareholder was said to be seeking talks with him “over whether it is appropriate for him to hold two big jobs”.
A source close to Gilbert said any criticism over the businessman’s ability to oversee both blue-chip companies at the same time was “completely misplaced”. “He is hunting for the unnamed shareholders who have been claiming this, and frankly no-one’s owning up to it,” the source said. “If there is any criticism, no-one’s made it to the company and no-one’s made it to him.”
Shares in AAM have risen slightly over the past year, while those in FirstGroup have fallen by about a third.
The bus and train operator has made it clear that a formal search is under way to recruit additional “fully independent” non-executives to strengthen its board. However, it appears to have no plans to line up a successor to Gilbert, who is also a non-executive director at Aberdeen Football Club, satellite broadcaster BSkyB and Primary Health Properties, a real estate investment trust that specialises in renting out GP surgeries and other healthcare premises.
The source added: “Gilbert’s been a central figure in the enormous growth of both businesses. No-one’s ever had an issue with it before. You’ve only got to look at his long-term track record at building both of these good Scottish companies, pretty much from scratch.”
Shareholders will have their chance to voice any concerns about Gilbert’s position when FirstGroup holds its annual meeting next month, but institutional shareholders are not thought to have raised the issue directly with the company following the publication of its full-year results last month, which showed a 1.1 per cent dip in adjusted pre-tax profits to £271.4 million.
The Aberdeen-based transport group is to accelerate the restructuring of its UK bus business after profits at the division fell 9.7 per cent to £134.4m. Revenues rose 1.7 per cent to £1.2 billion, but operating margins have come under pressure.
Given Gilbert’s position as chief executive of AAM, one insider said he would be aware if investors had an issue with his roles, adding that it was “pretty cowardly” for anonymous fund managers to criticise him. “Martin is the head of one of the largest fund management groups in Europe, so he knows fund managers. He would know if they had a problem.”
On Thursday, Jeroen Weimar will become chief operating officer of FirstGroup’s UK bus business. He joins from Serco, where he was responsible for the National Traffic Control Centre and the Docklands Light Railway.
Chris Surch is due to join the group as finance director in September. Surch, who joins from waste management group Shanks, succeeds Jeff Carr, who left in November to join Dutch supermarket chain Ahold.
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