Lord Smith vows to get women on board at Alliance Trust

The new chairman of Alliance Trust has vowed to address a lack of female representation in its boardroom following an 'eventful year' for the Dundee wealth manager.

Lord Smith said he was 'determined' to address gender diversity at Alliance Trust. Picture: Neil Hanna

Lord Smith of Kelvin, unveiling the firm’s first set of results since he replaced previous chair Karin Forseke at the start of last month, said he was “acutely aware” of the lack of gender diversity on the board in the wake of an overhaul that also saw the ousting of chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox.

“Alliance Trust has long been a leader in the area of board diversity, and this is an issue which I am determined to address at the earliest opportunity,” said Lord Smith, who also chairs the Edinburgh-based Green Investment Bank, Forth Ports and engineering consultant IMI.

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Following the departure of Forseke and Garrett-Cox, the trust now has an all-male board of seven non-executive directors, with Lord Smith at the helm and Gregor Stewart as his deputy chairman. Former Standard Life finance chief John Hylands is set to retire as a non-executive at this year’s shareholder meeting on 6 May.

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Katherine Garrett-Cox ousted from Alliance Trust

Alliance Trust came under pressure from activist investor Elliott last year, leading to a climbdown just before its annual meeting that saw it agree to appoint two of the US hedge fund’s suggested non-executives – City veterans Anthony Brooke and Rory Macnamara – to the board. Brooke sparked an angry reaction from shareholders at the gathering in Dundee when he admitted that he had “no knowledge of Alliance Trust other than what I have read in the press”.

Lord Smith said today: “2015 was an eventful year for Alliance Trust and highlighted that shareholders expected change.”

His comments came as the trust said assets under administration at its Alliance Trust Savings division jumped 32 per cent last year to hit £8.5 billion, while the discount between its share price and net asset value (NAV) narrowed to 8.1 per cent by the end of 2015, compared with 12.4 per cent a year earlier.

“The investment team is continuing to deliver improved investment returns, significantly outperforming the benchmark,” Lord Smith said.

“At the same time the discount to NAV has narrowed and we are on target to achieve our cost-cutting objectives.”

Alliance Trust declared a fourth interim dividend of 3.3725p a share, to be paid on 31 March, giving a total payout for the year of 12.43p.

Roger Lawson, deputy chairman of individual shareholders’ organisation ShareSoc, said: “This company still appears to be a work in progress in terms of tackling some of the past problems, but the direction appears to be positive.”