New boss side-steps concerns of few who show up
Published 02/11/2010 | 05:00
THERE was a palpable sense of anger in the air as AIB's shareholders gathered in Ballsbridge yesterday, but the most salient thing of all was the paltry numbers of investors who'd turned out.
Not long ago, it was standing room only -- yesterday there were almost as many seats vacant as occupied in the bank's high-tech conference room.
One investor demanded that shareholders "stand up and fight" against AIB's impending nationalisation, but the reality is that many think the battle has already been fought and lost.
For them, the end game is so obvious that they no longer traipse into Bank Centre to inspect the mounting body count of newly-impoverished widows, pensioners and former staffers.
David Hodgkinson, the ex-HSBC banker hand-picked to lead AIB through its "restructuring", came face-to-face with that carnage for the first time yesterday as the meagre numbers in attendance made their views heard.
Hodgkinson began, wisely, by saying he was "acutely conscious" of the "enormous erosion" of shareholder value and the "real hardship" this had brought about for ordinary investors.
"Tell me, am I completely wiped out?" a farmer implored, voicing the question on everyone's lips, while another suggested AIB should provide €50 a week to investors who are now destitute.
One woman raised the issue of suicides by those being chased by banks. "There's a tally of road deaths, maybe bank boardrooms should have similar statistics," she suggested.
The thorny issue of golden handshakes for departed bosses raised its head several times, with shareholders demanding details of the packages paid out to former chief executive Eugene Sheehy and soon-to-be-departed managing director Colm Doherty.
But Hodgkinson handled those queries as expertly as he handled the rest of the shareholders' contributions, displaying lashings of empathy as he deftly side-stepped the thorniest issues by promising to "look into" things.