An easyJet board member has resigned following scrutiny over her role at Wirecard, the collapsed German payments company.
Anastassia Lauterbach quit on Monday as a non-executive director of the low-cost carrier with immediate effect after less than two years’ service.
Her exit came days after influential shareholder advisory group ISS questioned her place on the board, given that she had been a member of the supervisory board of Wirecard, the scandal-hit German company that filed for insolvency in June after revealing a multiyear fraud and a €1.9bn hole in its accounts.
Ms Lauterbach had joined Wirecard’s supervisory board in 2018. As a non-executive director, she chaired the newly created risk and compliance committee that pushed to improve Wirecard’s internal controls and governance.
People familiar with the discussions on Wirecard’s supervisory board told the Financial Times that Ms Lauterbach had been internally calling for the dismissal of Wirecard’s chief executive officer Markus Braun and its operating officer Jan Marsalek months before the company collapsed.
She stayed on the supervisory board until it dissolved itself this summer after Wirecard’s insolvency.
“Although she was a relatively recent appointment to the Wirecard board, the failures in risk management, oversight, and governance at the company are of a category that would stain the record of any director,” ISS said as it advised investors to abstain when voting on her re-election to easyJet’s board at Wednesday’s annual meeting.
Two other shareholder advisory groups, Glass Lewis and Pirc, recommended that shareholders support her re-election.
Ms Lauterbach’s re-election had been in the balance as it emerged that easyJet’s biggest shareholder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, a longstanding critic of the airline’s leadership, would vote against the board.
Mr Haji-Ioannou, who along with members of his family own almost 30 per cent of the airline, plans to also vote against the remuneration policies and the reappointment of PwC as auditor and abstain on a motion clearing the way for the board to raise fresh capital from shareholders if needed.
EasyJet appointed Ms Lauterbach as a non-executive director in December 2018 to help it better focus on its digital operations and use of data. A German national from Bonn, she had previously held roles at companies including Qualcomm, Deutsche Telekom and McKinsey. Ms Lauterbach declined to comment.
In a statement issued earlier this month after the ISS recommendation was published, easyJet had said that “we believe that Anastassia was a key driving force in efforts to improve the governance and risk oversight structure at the company and made a material contribution to bringing irregularities to the fore”.
Roger Barker, director of corporate governance at the Institute of Directors, said that “boards succeed or fail as a team” regardless of the individual efforts of a director.
“There is no escaping from the reputational impact of being associated with a team that fails in its basic responsibility of ensuring that the governance framework as a whole is fit for purpose,” he said.
EasyJet usually holds its annual meeting in February but brought it forward this year ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period and as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts its business.
Rivals Ryanair and British Airways-owner IAG both faced significant shareholder revolts over executive pay at their annual meetings, but easyJet’s remuneration report received the backing of the major shareholder advisory groups. One, Pirc, that recommended shareholders oppose the new remuneration policy, which includes changes to executive pay structure.