Mike Ashley, the founder and majority owner of retailer Sports Direct, said on Friday he had been “stabbed in the back” by other shareholders over their lack of support, and warned future engagement with them would be “extremely challenging”.
In a statement to the London Stock Exchange, Mr Ashley, who owns 61pc of Sports Direct equity and is the firm’s CEO, criticised shareholders for failing to support the board and “repeatedly hounding” former chairman Keith Hellawell.
At Wednesday’s annual shareholders’ meeting, re-election of Mr Ashley was opposed by 9.78pc of votes cast. Mr Hellawell, chairman for the past nine years, stepped down ahead of the meeting.
Their re-election had been opposed by three shareholder advisory groups over Sports Direct’s alleged poor corporate governance and concerns about employment practices.
“The company’s shareholders appear to be affected by the pressure of the media and certain other organisations, and they have failed to support Sports Direct, Keith and myself, on this journey,” Mr Ashley, who also owns soccer club Newcastle United, said.
“It is blatantly apparent that true entrepreneurs will never be accepted in the public arena … the shareholders have now made it extremely challenging for future engagement to take place.”
Mr Ashley said that the people within the Sports Direct group were his “number one priority”.
However, analysts say he wants to retain Sports Direct’s listed status because he believes it gives the firm gravitas in its negotiations with key suppliers – Nike, Adidas, Puma and Under Armour.
On Wednesday, Sports Direct officially ruled out a takeover bid for Debenhams after an outgoing director claimed the board had discussed combining the department store group with House of Fraser.
Sports Direct purchased House of Fraser out of administration last month and also owns a 29.7pc stake in Debenhams.