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Grade faces calls to stand down at Pinewood AGM

Steve Dinneen
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UNDER-FIRE Pinewood Studios chairman Michael Grade faced calls to stand down yesterday in the wake of the firm’s annual meeting.

The charismatic former ITV boss faced a barrage of questions from rebel shareholder Crystal Amber, which holds an 18 per cent stake in the film and TV studio.

The investor yesterday reiterated its calls for Grade’s head to City A.M. but rebels fell short of demanding his resignation face-to-face, instead quizzing him on the firm’s capital returns.

Amber Crystal now says it will engage with other shareholders, including Peel, which has a 26 per cent stake in the firm, to back up the drive to oust Grade. Sources close to the Crystal camp say it has already sounded out fellow investors and found a degree of sympathy.

A spokesman said Crystal had already made its views over Grade clear and preferred to use its time in the meeting for “more pertinent” questions.
The activist investor had also called for the head of senior independent director Adrian Burn. However, Burn, who was up for re-election, was voted back in by a massive majority, with some dissident shareholders abstaining from the vote.

The meeting took on a farcical note when it was announced on the morning that all media were banned from the event and at least one potential investor who had enquired about the firm was barred from entering the conference.

A Pinewood spokesman told City A.M.: “There were no fireworks, there was no call for Grade’s resignation. There are rules in place, as with any firm, on who can enter the meeting.”

THE STRIFE AND TIMES OF...

MICHAEL GRADE

When Michael Grade arrived on his first day as chairman of ITV he was clapped into the building. Following in the footsteps of his impresario father Lew, who once made a franchise bid for the ITV network, he seemed destined to succeed. But his tenure was marred by the downturn at the firm amid increasingly tough market conditions. And it is not the only venture that has struggled under his influence.

FIRST LEISURE, 1997-1999
Grade left a top job at Channel 4 to take the chief executive position at First Leisure. His stint there is marred with controversy over his bumper pay and the decline of the business, which was once run by his uncle. His aunt said she was “horrified” by his attempts to dismantle the firm.

ITV, 2006-2009
Grade was seen as a natural fit at ITV, which he joined in a £2m-a-year deal. But he struggled to turn around the business, which was in rapid decline. He was unfortunate to preside over the company during the highly damaging phone-in scandal, for which ITV was eventually fined £5.7m. The firm posted a record loss of £2.7bn in 2009, when Grade stepped down, and was forced to shed 1,600 staff.

PINEWOOD, 1999-PRESENT
Pinewood’s performance in recent years has been mediocre as it struggles to maintain profitability amid torrid market conditions. Since 2004 its profit before tax has fallen 56 per cent from £10.1m to £4.4m. Its operating margin has decreased from 33.5 per cent to just 18.9 per cent.