• Activists attack security firm’s conduct outside AGM venue
• Shareholders remonstrate over abortive bid for rival ISS
The boss of G4S, the world’s largest security company, has admitted that last year’s abortive £5.2bn takeover of Danish rival ISS has forced the company to change its acquisition strategy, making big deals a thing of the past.
The fiasco, which sparked a sell-off in the shares and eventually cost chairman Alf Duch-Pedersen his job, also damaged relations with shareholders, which the board is still trying to repair.
Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S, said that big deals were off the agenda and the company would revert to pursuing smaller acquisitions, worth £200m to £300m. He wants to expand in Brazil, China and India, as well as the UK.
The British-Danish security group held its annual meeting at the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday, which attracted dozens of protesters from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Global Women’s Strike and the All African Women’s Group to Paternoster Square next to St Paul’s Cathedral. Their chanting could be heard inside the stock exchange; the banners on display ranged from “G4S Securing Apartheid” to “End the Siege on Gaza” and “Justice for Jimmy Mubenga”, the Angolan asylum seeker who died while being deported from the UK by G4S in 2010.
G4S – the world’s second-largest commercial employer after American retailer Walmart – runs six prisons as well as detention centres for asylum seekers in Britain, looks after security in several UK hospitals, runs anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, and provides security services and equipment to Israeli prisons and settlements.
Campaigners said they handed shareholders an “alternative annual report” that criticised the conduct of the security company in its dealings with the UK and Israeli governments. G4S and three of its guards are being investigated over the death of Mubenga, who collapsed after being heavily restrained on a commercial flight from Heathrow, according to passengers. G4S lost the multimillion-pound government contract to deport foreign nationals shortly after, but its rival Reliance had already been identified as the lead bidder prior to Mubenga’s death. A decision over whether to charge the guards is imminent, the director of public prosecutions said in March.
Journalists were not allowed into the shareholder meeting, which was attended by about 50 investors. At a press briefing afterwards, Buckles said shareholders asked questions about the company’s acquisition strategy, the £55m cost of the failed ISS acquisition and the London Olympics, where G4S is providing 10,000 security staff. The group has been criticised for charging high prices to London 2012 for its security services: the contracts are worth £284m.
“We had a good relationship with shareholders going into the ISS deal,” said Buckles. “They didn’t like the deal, some were more upset than others. [At the AGM] some said ‘you wasted £50m’ … These things take a little bit of time to heal. We’re 70 to 80% of the way there.”
He said investors did not ask any questions about executive pay, which has featured prominently in the series of investor revolts that has become known as the “shareholder spring”. They prompted the departure of several chief executives, including Aviva’s Andrew Moss and AstraZeneca’s David Brennan. Buckles had pre-empted any criticism by waiving his £750,000 bonus in March. He still took home £1.9m in 2011, down from the previous year’s £2.5m. He joked that G4S had already had a “shareholder autumn”, referring to the investor revolt that thwarted the ISS deal.
“Me and the team didn’t think it was appropriate [to take a bonus] for a number of reasons,” said Buckles.
The company’s pre-tax profits slumped by 17% following the £55m in fees paid to investment bankers and layers working on the ISS bid.
But Buckles rejected the suggestion that other company executives should follow suit if things go wrong. “It’s down to your own motivation,” he said. “There has to be a way of assessing what constitutes good or bad performance. Boards or individuals should be capable of making those judgments, and they should be trusted to make those judgments.”
The remuneration report was approved by 98.8% of the proxy votes cast ahead of the meeting, with only 63.5% of the issued share capital voted. Results on the other resolutions were not disclosed as the Danish stock exchange had already closed.
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