The company’s Annual General Meeting saw 53% of independent investors vote against Keith Hellawell amid major criticism over working practices and the way the company is run.
But the chairman’s position was safeguarded after Mr Ashley – the Newcastle United owner who owns 55% of Sports Direct – backed him.
Mr Hellawell denied that his position is now untenable, as he stood alongside the billionaire tycoon to face questions following the vote.
He said: “I think I am going to prove that I am competent.”
The vote came after months of pressure from City institutions, concerned about a slump in Sports Direct’s share price and the extent of Mr Ashley’s control over the business.
Non-executive directors led by the chairman are supposed to keep the executives who run the company in check.
But billionaire tycoon Mr Ashley insisted he ought to be given another chance despite the setbacks.
“I am a man who gets some things very right and other things very wrong,” he said.
It was earlier revealed that the chairman had already offered to resign but that this was rejected by the board.
The AGM has been told that Mr Hellawell – a former government drugs’ tsar and chief constable of West Yorkshire – would quit next year if he failed to win significant support from investors.
Major investors in the sportswear giant including Standard Life Investments – its second-largest shareholder – voted against the company on key resolutions at the AGM.
The meeting at Sports Direct’s headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, saw frayed tempers as Mr Ashley fought off criticism of reforms to working practices announced by the company a day earlier.
Mr Ashley clashed with the Unite union, claiming it was trying to bash him as he tried to turn workers’ conditions around, and adding: “It’s your fault we’re in this mess”.
Later the businessman took journalists and investors on a tour of the company’s Shirebrook site – including its controversial warehouse where he was left visibly embarrassed at security.
Mr Ashley was forced to empty his pockets – revealing a wad of £50 notes.
Sports Direct has been trying to appease unhappy investors who have seen its share price slump 55% in the past year as it faced allegations of Victorian working practices at Shirebrook.
A further downbeat update ahead of the AGM – forecasting that full-year profits were likely to be £80m lower than the year before – can hardly have helped.
Euan Stirling, head of stewardship and environmental, social and governance investment at Standard Life Investments, told the AGM that structural change was now required.
He called for a “full and independent review of governance at the company” and a commitment to act on it in the next twelve months.
News Source SkyNews