Corus scuppered Usmanov with PR

I doubt whether six months ago many people in the UK had heard of Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov, let alone had a clue how he made his fortune. Then he decided to buy a stake in Corus, the UK end of a company still better known as British Steel, and tried to get a director on the board.

Everybody in the financial world now knows who he is, and the campaign against him was so robust that his candidate for the board withdrew before the vote. Clever stuff this, because it was achieved without any debate on Usmanov’s key proposal that iron ore and semi-finished steel from his mines and plants should be supplied to Corus to their mutual benefit.

Publicly, Corus stressed the British principle that boards exist for the benefit of all shareholders and that directors should not be a representative of just one – conveniently ignoring the fact that half the boards in the UK have directors who are there because they are either shareholders or represent them.

Privately, journalists were invited by unauthorised but interested third parties to have a Google-assisted browse to see what snippets of Usmanov’s past had made it to the press down the years. In between, Brunswick, retained by Corus, quietly pointed out that the Usmanov candidate was a former director of Corus who resigned at a time when relations between its British and Dutch sides were strained. His reappointment might have led to the reopening of old wounds, deflecting the company from recovery.

Little of this made it into the open, but the institutional shareholders whose votes were needed to block Usmanov knew what was going on, as probably did the Usmanov camp – which is why they withdrew. The Corus board secured its objective and gave substance to the thought that very often, the most effective PR is the campaign that the public don’t know is taking place.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in