It was a good year to read the business pages. Here are some of the top characters who caught our fancy in 2013 — from Gina Rinehart to Walk King and Frank Oâ€™Halloran.
While global stock markets gleefully rebounded and central banks across the world decided whether to taper, spare a thought for those forgotten business stars who made the business pages slightly more interesting during 2013 â€¦Â
Black Letter Lawyer of the Year
Lord Denning might not have approved, but former Baker McKenzie Australia bossÂ John McGuiganÂ was revealed to be quite the raconteur at a January Independent Commission Against CorruptionÂ hearing. While lawyers are traditionally known for the discretion, McGuigan did his bit to rid the profession of such a horrid reputation, with secret phone taps revealing McGuigan had described White Energy independent director Graham Cubbin as a “silly prick” who has got himself a “fucking case of dripply cock”.
Al Capone Award for the Denial of the Year
To Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy gave a furious denial when answering corruption allegations, noting that “everything that has been said about me and my colleagues in the party is untrue, except for some things that have been published by some media outlets”. Which appears to mean that Rajoy is completely innocent, other than of the crimes he may have committed.Â
Shaun Greenhalgh Award for the Forger of the Year
To Melbourne manÂ Wayne Hayden, who in order to reduce his sentence for deception-related offences (which included forgery) thought it wise to forge a character reference. The action unfortunately indicated an apparent lack of remorse and Haydenâ€™s sentence promptly increased by four months.
King Solomon Award for Upholding Justice
To Australiaâ€™s finest criminal prosecutors, who felt it appropriate that Guy Jarvis (a drug addict with suspected mental problems), who allegedly stole $293, ought to be sentenced to seven years’ jail. Meanwhile, David Coe, a former partner at law form Mallesons who was once on the BRW Rich list and who allegedly diverted $104 million from Allco shareholders to a trust controlled by himself and other Allco insiders, was never charged with an offence. After his death in January 2013, Coe was eulogised by the financial press, with former Wallaby-turned-investment banker Simon Poidevin noting that “David Coe defined to all of us how you should live life”.
Dean Lukin Award for Part-Time Fisherman/Part-Time Investor of the Year
To Henricus Petrus Indisrie, better known as “Ric the Fish”. The Fish is the owner of Perth Select Seafoods and appears to be a fairly astute investor after purchasing a $300,000 stake in junior miner Sirius Resources last July. After Sirius discovered a world-class nickel copper deposit at Fraser Ridge, its share price leapt, and Ric the Fishâ€™s stake grew to be worth more than $23 million in only eight months. Thatâ€™s a lot of tuna.
Alan Bond Memorial Award for Shareholders’ Friend of the Year
To QBE Insurance, which in its wisdom thought it apt to pay former CEOÂ Frank Oâ€™HalloranÂ a termination payment of $2.34 million. Oâ€™Halloran was once hailed as a king among men at the insurer, which he turned from a minnow into one of the world’s largest. Sadly for QBE shareholders, integration wasnâ€™t Frankâ€™s strong point, with the company using eight different payroll systems. QBEâ€™s share price has slumped by more than 70% shortly after Oâ€™Halloranâ€™s departure. While the QBE board was paying Frank an almighty golden handshake for a job well done, it was also telling those same shareholders that it was revising its dividend policy and maintaining a lower payout ratio, based on fallen profitability.
Patty Hearst Award for Victim of the Year
To the worldâ€™s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, who appears to be the tragic victim of a long-running family feud. Rinehartâ€™s lawyer, Noel Hutley SC, told the New South Wales Supreme Court that Rinehart was harmed by the legal action again two of her four children as “she is the person who if she wanted to get out and retire from the business or turn her money to philanthropy”. The action that harmed Rinehart was arguably caused by Rinehart herself refusing to allow her children access to the trust left to them by their grandfather (with a Â little help from PwC).
Lonergan Edwards Award for the Expert of the Year
To former Leighton Holdings chairmanÂ David Mortimer. Under Mortimerâ€™s shrewd watch, it came to light that Leighton had allegedly been bribing a motley crew of developing counties — the allegations led to billions of dollars being wiped from the value of the company, as well as potential civil and criminal actions from the Federal Police and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The federal government had twice tapped Mortimer to fulfil the task of advising on expert policies and procedures; the first, penned in 2008 (around the Â same time Leighton was allegedly bribing Iraqi officials), was called “Winning in World Markets”, while Mortimer backed it up this year with another report called “Going to the Next Level”.
Elizabeth Nosworthy Award for Chairman of the Year
In a rare double gong, David Mortimer backed up his Expert of the Year award by taking out the Chairman of the Year for his stewardship of Australia Post. Mortimer sadly retired from OzPost in August, to the fawning praise of CEO Ahmed Fahour. It was Fahour who oversaw Australia Postâ€™s controversial Olympic Games sponsorship and who noted that “on behalf of all Australia Post staff I would like to thank David for the incredible contribution he has made to the business and its future over the past 11 years”. While Australia Postâ€™s performance remains questionable, the payments flowing to the ever grateful Fahour certainly were lavish. Under Mortimerâ€™s watch, Fahour became Australiaâ€™s highest paid public servant, receiving a jaw-dropping $2.9 million in 2011. Fahourâ€™s salary was 12 times the salary received by the US Postmaster General (who performs a similar role), despite Australia Post being only 3% of the size of the US equivalent.
Ben Bernanke Award for Forecaster of the Year
To The Australian Financial Review and crack writer Jemima Whyte, who, while discussing the upcoming iSelect IPO, noted: “Floats are suddenly looking attractive, and even those who aren’t entirely convinced about some aspects of iSelectâ€™s business admit that this float will probably shoot the lights out … it’s a new growing industry in its infancy in Australia that has experienced rapid growth in recent years.” Sadly, the iSelect float didnâ€™t quite shoot anything out, falling by 33% in six months and even drawing an ASIC investigation into questionable disclosure.
Goldfish Memory of the Year
To portfolio managerÂ Steve Black, of Pengana Capital, who was positively ebullient about the prospects of the float of transport company McAleese. Black noted that “the strongest case is the quality of the management team”. It appears Black doesnâ€™t have an especially long memory, as the McAleese team was led by chairman Mark Rowsthorn, who was CEO of Asciano while its shares slumped from $10.26 to $1.50. A large part of Ascianoâ€™s poor performance was due to Rowsthornâ€™s harebrained takeover bid for Brambles and a terribly timed, highly dilutive equity raising. Rowsthorn, of course, got his start the old-fashioned way — by being the son of Tollâ€™s first chairman, Peter Rowsthorn.
Lame Duck of the Year
To former Leighton Holdings CEOÂ Wal King, who noted that after David Stewart had been selected to succeed him CEO in August 2010, King became “ostracised within the company that he had run for 23 years” and became “somewhat of a lame duck”. As it turns out, King was a very well-paid lame duck — for the 2011 financial year (King was a lame duck for virtually all of it) he took home more than $2.7 million. After retiring as CEO, King also received gardening and handyman services at his home — perhaps they were installing a duck pond.
Overzealous Cleaner of the Year
To British IT expertÂ James Howells, who inadvertently threw out a hard drive that contained almost $8 million worth of bitcoins. Howells mined the bitcoins in 2009 (when they were virtually worthless), and their price increased during that time from $20 to more than $1000 this year (the current price is around US$900). Howells attempted to scour his local landfill to try to find the hard drive, only to be told that it would likely be three feet deep in an area the size of a football field.