Wetherspoon boss raises glass to Brexit and middle finger to corporate code

Code stuffs boards with directors who know little about their companies, says Tim Martin

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin. Photograph: Alan Betson

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Tim Martin is never short of a few words. The combative founder and chief executive of JD Wetherspoon pub group has been one of the most outspoken corporate advocates for Brexit.

Now, just a week ahead of the group’s annual shareholders’ meeting, he has taken aim at some of his largest institutional shareholders and the proxy advisers who advise shareholders.

Their crime? Pointing out that a number of Wetherspoon’s non-executive directors are far from compliant with the corporate governance code.

He argues that the code effectively stuffs boards with directors who have little real knowledge of the companies they help run, and says, “There can be little doubt that the current system has led to the failure or chronic underperformance of many businesses.”

He is on firmer ground when he notes that some of his critics do not themselves meet the terms of the code to which they want to hold him.

The tirade against corporate governance rules did not distract him entirely from Brexit, on which he held forth at length on what he sees as myths that need to be dismantled for Brexit’s clarity of vision to shine through. He even dragged Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair in as support for his argument – with a casual manipulation of the airline’s stated position that would make even O’Leary blush.

In all, just one page of the company’s eight-page trading update dealt with the company’s current trading position.

Of course, his views fail to take any account of the realities of modern trade accords and the determination of the European Union not to be dismantled simply to accommodate Britain’s view of itself and its trading priorities.

To be fair to the maverick entrepreneur, he is at least consistent. The attack on corporate governance and his championing of Brexit both stem from the same strongly-held view – the less interference in how he runs his business the better.

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