When Ethna Tinney lost her bid to be re-elected to the board of the EBS, Chairman Mark Moran said afterwards that the vote was a “clear mandate for the board and a clear outcome.” To remind you, Mark is refering to a margin of victory of just 835 votes from a total of almost 20,000 ballots.
Yet the outcome isn’t nearly as clear as Mark claims. Tinney won the day. Out of the 1,200 people in attendance at the meeting, the vast majority supported her. Why else would Mark refuse to put the vote to the floor before counting ballots?
But Tinney also almost won a much greater battle. She was up againist a nationwide campaign against her. Down in Limerick, Ethna had been fighting alone. She has a limited budget with which to fight her corner.
The EBS board has its members’ millions to spin its message using the most expensive PR spivs in town. Q4 Public Relations, the Fianna Fail-dominated outfit, also embraces Gerry O’Sullivan who defended Alfie Kane at Eircom.
Pretty lavish use of the members’ cheque book, especially as EBS already has its own in-house spivs. Journalists were briefed that Ethna was ‘not quite up to it’. Then an effort was made to undermine her story. Q4 was spinning hard for its money.
They also employed the EBS’ entire branch network. Hardly a branch in Ireland has failed to despatch a patrol across the counter to ambush unsuspecting customers, urging them to fill in their proxies.
Did any staff refuse? Woe betide the promotion prospects of employees who hesitated or even voiced their support for independent director Ethna Tinney. The staff was conscripted, firmly behind the board. My telephone has been ringing all week with irate EBS customers’ tales of being put under pressure by EBS hit squads to fill in their proxies.
The AGM too was packed with employees, taking the afternoon off to cheer for the directors.
Ethna is not a high-powered, corporate genius. Ethna is ordinary. That is her strength. She may not be a hot shot at interest rate swaps, but she has an awkward instinct. She felt that a failed deal with Rabobank was not in members’ interests; that some EBS bosses’ remuneration was too high; that the board was being bypassed; that the members were mere pawns.
And she almost overcame the EBS spinners and the board’s campaign. Monday’s vote represented a short-term victory for the EBS board. It was not a “clear mandate for the board and a clear outcome.” Or as a certain building society’s ad put it recently: “Don’t be misled by some stories you might read.”