THURSDAY 12 JUL 2012 12:57 PM


Questions at yesterday's Marks & Spencer Annual General Meeting seemed to catch out board members as the annual meeting was used as a forum to voice allegations of sexual impropriety.

During the otherwise slick and polished AGM a woman in the audience stood up and asked M&S chairman Robert Swannell ‘How can you support Steven Holliday’s position chairing the committee which determines executive pay when he has breached his own ethics policy with my daughter?’ She went on to accuse Holliday, who chairs the M&S remuneration committee (and is also CEO of National Grid) of ruining her daughter Laura Barker's career after firing her when she "could no longer meet his sexual demands".

The situation seems a recurrent theme at AGMs featuring National Grid CEOs. Ten years ago Holliday's predecessor, Roger Unwin, was accused of having an affair with a married employee. The cuckolded husband chose the National Grid AGM to air his displeasure.

Swannell seemed unprepared, mumbling that the M&S AGM was not an appropriate place for such a question. Security guards tried to silence Mrs Barker's microphone and she was eventually escorted from the building.

However, many media trainers seasoned at briefing senior executives in their AGM performance were surprised that Marks and Spencer was so ill-prepared for such a question.

"For any well prepared organisation, curve ball questions should be anticipated" suggests Andrew Caesar-Gordon,managing director of Electric Airwaves. "In this case, it was an old allegation for which the National Grid press office had a ready rebuttal and one that Mr Holliday was presumably familiar." Expressing surprise at the reports of Swannells' handling of the incident Caesar-Gordon added: "The general advice is do not ignore a question but acknowledge or address it before ‘bridging’ to communicate something positive."