Buxton slams corporate activity under male-heavy boards

Old Mutual Global Investors CEO Richard Buxton has slammed the cost of predominantly male boards to shareholders as he blames a lack of diversity for poor corporate decision making.

Buxton slams corporate activity under male-heavy boards

The star fund manager listed Tesco and Royal Bank of Scotland as examples of companies that have made costly mistakes, which may not have occurred if boards had been more diverse.

Buxton described Tesco’s attempt to push into the American market with its chain of Fresh & Easy stores as a “macho” decision.

The former finance director told Buxton two years after Tesco’s American subsidiary went bust that the group “needed to test ourselves in a big, mature market like the US”.

Only three out of Tesco’s current 14 board members are women.

Buxton, who was working at Schroders at the time of the expansion, said, along with his colleagues, he had pleaded with Tesco not to go ahead with the US expansion.

The FTSE 100 retailer sold most of its US operations six years after setting up shop in 2007. In 2015, the former Tesco subsidiary filed for bankruptcy, bringing the total cost of its failed US venture to £2bn.

In a similar vein, Buxton told Portfolio Adviser that RBS would not have “charged off” to buy ABN Amro if it had “a more diverse board than male Scots”.

RBS’ takeover of part of Dutch lender ABN Amro for €71bn has been hailed as one of the worst takeover deals in recent memory.

The FTSE 100 bank and a consortium that included Belgian-Dutch bank Fortis and Spanish lender Banco Santander paid three times the book value for ABN Amro just before the credit crunch hit in the summer of 2007. Both RBS and Fortis had to be bailed out by the UK and Dutch governments in 2008 respectively.

At the time of the ABN Amro acquisition there was only one woman on the 18-person board, former Heathrow Airport executive chairman Janis Kong.

Five out of RBS’ 14 current board members are women, including four non-executive directors and its chief governance officer and board counsel, Aileen Taylor.

“Businesses would make better decisions and society and the economy would be better off if we could fast track to much greater gender balance,” said Buxton.

OMGI pay gap

However, OMGI, which will shortly be spun-out from parent company Old Mutual, last month revealed it had a gender pay gap of 29%.

Women’s mean bonus pay was 83% lower than men’s at OMGI and only 15% of the top quartile pay bracket were women.

Old Mutual Wealth’s pay gap was slightly worse, with women earning 33% lower than their male colleagues on average, but more women were in the highest pay bracket (34%) and women’s mean bonus pay was 66% lower than men’s.

Buxton said that OMGI has got “a lot of senior women at the company”, though he admitted the firm still struggled with gender diversity among its investment professionals.

But he added OMGI was a member of the Diversity Project, the 30% club and was pursuing a number of other initiatives to encourage more women into the fund management profession.

That said, Buxton is “very proud” that OMGI’s seven-person executive committee is female majority, made up of four women and three men.

Tesco’s pay gap was only 11.5%, considerably lower than OMGI’s, but RBS’ pay gap was higher at 37.2%.

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