Scottish Mortgage board shake up as three leave

Fiona McBain

Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust, Baillie Gifford’s flagship fund, on Tuesday announced big changes to its board following claims last week by one departing director, Amar Bhidé, that he had been “removed … by the vote of the board.”

On Tuesday, the £13.4 billion fund said in a stock exchange statement that Justin Dowley, the company’s current senior independent director, will succeed Fiona McBain as chair with effect from the 2023 AGM, subject to being re-elected by shareholders.

It is understood departing director Bhidé clashed with McBain over his assessment of the risks posed by the giant fund’s investments in unquoted companies — and over the process to appoint two new board members.

Amar Bhidé

In the other board changes, Scottish Mortgage said Patrick Maxwell will, subject to being re-elected by shareholders, succeed Dowley as the senior independent director and that Paola Subacchi will retire from her role as a director at the AGM, having served nine years.

McBain will step down from the board at the same time.

The fund said Amar Bhidé has now left the board and is no longer a director of the company.

Asked to respond to today’s statement from Scottish Mortgage, Bhidé said: “I hope this gives other independents (directors) some spine.”

Scottish Mortgage saw its share price almost triple during 2020 and 2021 from around £5.80 to over £15, but the stock was routed amid the global sell off in the fund’s beloved “growth” and technology stocks and it currently trades around £6.66.

However, the giant fund has a very strong long term investment record. Over the last 10 years Scottish Mortgage returned 421% and 362% in net asset value (NAV) and share price terms respectively (total return) while the FTSE All World Index TR produced 183%.

Scottish Mortgage said the board changes resulted “from succession planning which has been developed and supported by all of the directors over the course of the last 12 months.”

Justin Dowley

Dowley said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Paola for her substantial contributions during her nine years as a non-executive director.

“I would also like to thank Fiona for her 14 years of loyal and exceptional service to the company, in particular over the last few years (and at the request of her fellow directors) providing essential continuity, reassurance and leadership during the extraordinary circumstances of Covid-19 and through a period of transition on the board and with the managers.”

Dowley did not mention Bhidé.

The fund added: “In addition, as part of the board’s overall planning, over the last few months the board has been conducting a recruitment process, using an external search firm, with a view to further board refreshment.

“That process is now well advanced.”

Scottish Mortgage added in its statement that the fund “aims to identify, own and support the world’s most exceptional growth companies.”

Paola Subacchi

The fund said: “Its unconstrained approach enables it to have the broadest opportunity set spanning both public and private companies across the globe …

“During the chair’s tenure, Scottish Mortgage began to democratise access to private companies for individual savers …

“Scottish Mortgage breaks down the artificial divide that exists between public and private companies by partnering with great growth companies at different stages on their growth journey …

“When the chair joined the board, the company had circa £1.4 billion in total assets, with an Ongoing Charge Figure of 0.54%. It now has £13.4 billion and charges its shareholders 0.32% …

“Over the last ten years Scottish Mortgage has produced a return of 421% and 362% in NAV and share price terms respectively (total return). The FTSE All World Index TR produced 183%.”