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Australia’s 2nd busiest pro director loses two top chairs

Peter Mansell is generating plenty of business news at the moment.

While stoically resisting the advances of Kerry Stokes to win two seats on the board of West Australian Newspapers, the Perth-based lawyer has today donned his chairman’s hat at Zinifex and come up with a blockbuster $11.6 billion merger with Oxiana.

Unfortunately for Mansell, he’s had to surrender the chair to get the deal over the line because Oxiana’s Barry Cusack will lead the combined business, which at this point remains nameless.

It is being billed as a genuine merger of equals, but Oxiana is the nominal acquirer because Zinifex shareholders are getting a 14% premium over Friday’s close and have to vote on the deal.

However, big-talking Oxiana founder Owen Hegarty has surrendered the CEO title to the new Zinifex CEO Andrew Michelmore – the man who was running WMC Resources when BHP swept it away in 2005.

Mansell and Hegarty will both stay on as ordinary garden variety non-executive directors – perhaps creating a situation of two many chiefs and not enough Indians.

Mansell is already Australia’s second busiest professional director after Sir Rod Eddington. He chairs no fewer than five companies and sits on two other boards.

The bloke has clearly been too busy to deal with the cowboy editor of The West Australian, Paul Armstrong, who should have been removed many months ago. However, Mansell’s abdication at Zinifex will give his institutional campaign to remain at the top of WAN some impetus.

The ASX corporate governance guidelines stipulate that no one person should chair two top 100 companies. The full list of offenders is here  — but none of these blokes have as many other gigs as Mansell.

While Zinifex and Oxiana have agreed to accommodate all directors and create a bloated 11-man board, WAN appears to be sticking to its crazy plan of only having 4 non-executive directors.

Surely, it is up to the shareholders to decide if they want to expand the WAN board at the EGM on April 23. Stokes should get his two spots, but shareholders should not be forced to choose between the incumbents and any other challengers.

The Age’s former CEO Steve Harris is running as a genuine cleanskin and would be a perfect independent player on a board which currently has no media experience. However, if Mansell can double the Zinifex and Oxiana boards, he should facilitate an expansion of the WAN board – if that’s what the shareholders want.

Whatever happens, Mansell should not remain chairman of WA News because he has failed to run the company properly. However, some of the other three incumbents should remain to retain some corporate memory.

· Read the full account of last year’s explosive WA News AGM.

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