Mike Ashley's Sports Direct hits back after facing defeat in Findel shareholder vote

Kasmira Jefford
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Mike Ashley's Sports Direct has sparred with Findel over appointing one of its representatives to the board (Source: Getty)

Sports Direct has lashed out at Findel after shareholders today overwhelmingly voted against appointing one of its representatives to the board.

In a fiery statement issued this evening, the company said the combination of Sports Direct's retail expertise and having Ben Gardener as a board director "would have added value to Findel for the benefit of all of its shareholders”.

It also highlighted that Findel has been without a chief executive since Roger Siddle stepped down in March and that its performance has been deteriorating, with revenue at its Education business falling by 8.2 per cent in the the first half.

“All the Findel business segments could have been improved for the benefit of all of its shareholders with the retail expertise of Sports Direct...Gardener could have helped in all these regards and would have been a positive addition to a board that Sports Direct believes has under-delivered for its shareholders,” the company said.

Mike Ashley’s retail empire snapped up a 19 per cent stake in the mail order and education supplies company, which also owns replica club shirts business Kitbag, back in September.

The deal came just weeks after Findel confirmed that it had been approached by a third party interested in buying its Kitbag business, sparking speculation that Sports Direct was trying to scupper the bid.

Last month, the company called for an extraordinary general meeting to vote on the appointment of Gardener, a Sports Direct employee, to the board.

But Ashley faced a bitter defeat today, with shareholders owning 81 per cent of Findel's issued share capital voting against Gardener's appointment.

Major shareholders Toscafund, Schroders and River & Mercantile, who together control 43.9 per cent of Findel, voted against the proposal.

In a circular last month, Findel’s board recommended that shareholders oppose the move, arguing that Gardener's appointment "would compromise the independence of the board” and noting that Kitbag was in "direct competition" with Sports Direct. It also argued that Gardener lacked the qualifications to be a director of a listed company.

Sports Direct said Findel's comments regarding Gardener were "unfair, inaccurate and unjustified".

Newcastle United owner Ashley has taken a number of strategic stakes in companies over the last year in a bid to exert influence over their boards, including Debenhams, House of Fraser and Goals Soccer Centres.

It latest war with Findel comes as Sports Direct faces fierce criticism over its employment practices, with the Guardian reporting earlier this month that the business was effectively paying its staff less than minimum wage.

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