Dutch pension giants vote against Murdochs as CalPERS hails “winds of change”

“Strong signal” to directors pushing for change, says CalPERS’ Simpson

Dutch pension giants APG and PGGM have disclosed that they voted against all the Murdoch family members at last week’s News Corp. shareholder meeting.

It comes as a company regulatory filing late yesterday showed that an unprecedented majority of the media giant’s independent shareholders voted to remove Rupert Murdoch, his sons James and Lachlan and various other directors off the board.

PGGM, the €105bn asset manager that’s part of the PFZW healthcare pension fund, voted against all but one of the director candidates at the contentious meeting in Los Angeles, the first time investors had had the chance to register their views on the phone hacking scandal.

It said its decision was based on the “grave concerns regarding the events that the company has been linked to recently and the failure of the members of the board to address these issues adequately and alleviate these concerns”.

APG, the €275bn asset manager owned by the ABP civil service pension fund, voted against eight of the 11 director candidates.

The two highly influential funds also voted against ratifying executive pay, with PGGM saying it disapproves of the significant bonus to Murdoch senior despite the hacking scandal.

CalPERS, the $235.8bn (€169bn) California Public Employees’ Pension System and the largest US pension fund, hailed the “winds of change” demonstrated by the scale of the vote against the Murdoch family.“These are the winds of change and that rejuvenation on the board needs to happen, it’s begun,” said Senior Portfolio Manager Anne Simpson. “It’s a strong signal to those directors that are pushing for change that really they have the majority of the capital behind them in what they are trying to do.”

In an interview with the BBC, she said the vote showed the board that investors are looking for “robust independent oversight”. “It says to me there’s a wider challenge to the quality of the board, that investors are looking beyond the investigations,” she added.

The UK’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) said News Corp. has to respond to the results of the AGM vote. “These results show a clear desire for change amongst News Corp.‘s shareholders,” said Forum chairman Ian Greenwood. “The level of investor opposition to certain board members is even higher than many had expected.” He wanted the board to move swiftly to institute “genuinely independent representation”.

A proposal from the floor at the AGM from the Christian Brothers Investment Services calling for the separation of the chairman/CEO roles was defeated by 680.6m votes to 1.5m.

James Murdoch is set to be questioned again by UK MPs on November 10. He is also set to face investors again at the AGM of satellite TV operation BSkyB AGM on November 29.