Gerry Harvey, Australia’s fifth billionaire, does not like much debate at his AGMs. In fact, Crikey was the first person ever to disturb one when we popped in for a visit last week.

Various other director were primed to move and second the various motions and he barely even looked up as he hurriedly asked for discussion and then votes.

This was just too much to bare so after three minutes when it came to the re-election of Gerry himself, I piped up with the following:

CRIKEY: “I notice the chairman has been selling a few shares recently, are you going to sell any more?”

GERRY: “No”

CRIKEY: “Good”

GERRY: “That is the first time anyone has ever interrupted our meeting. I’ll get you later.”

This was all done in good humor and by the time we got to the resolution approving two million options each for a couple of executives, a genuine shareholder plucked up the courage to ask who are these people and what do they do?

GERRY: “Not very much”

Amid much laughter he then went into a long explanation which guaranteed the meeting would at least run for 10 minutes.

With the company expanding explosively all over the world he needed someone else to come in and run the computer and electrical divisions which used to be his baby.

And the two executives concerned needed a swag of options to be enticed on board.

Gerry formally closed the meeting at 11.15am and then declared to the assembled throng: “so now we can have a bit of a chat”.

The same genuine shareholder who asked about the options asked what Harvey Norman was trying to do in Slovenia.

Gerry rambled in for more than five minutes on this one but the gems were as follows:

“We have got lots of Slovenians working for us.”

“Everyone thinks we’ll go fantastic”

“We have got every nationality in the world working for us.”

“Nine out of 10 would all go back to their home country if they had the opportunity.”

“I was born in a country town. You always dreamt that one day you would go back as a hero.”

“I can’t make any more money so at the end of the day you have got to work out what you want to do.”

Then we had a shareholder ask how sales were going and again the answer was all over the place.

* The company sold a stack of big screen TVs before the Olympics but furniture sales were down up to 40 per cent in some stores over recent times.

* Christmas trading is totally reliant on the need for a heatwave to spark a run on airconditioning units.

* Store proprietors moan to Gerry about how bad things are but sales are up 20.3 per cent in the first four months of the new financial year and 11.8 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

* Because the company got hit with an extra $124,000 stamp duty bill from the WA govt on a $25.6 million property purchase, this means that:

“The government has the ACCC running around keeping us honest yet they’re dishonest.”

Crikey’s second and final contribution concerned our old friends at Westfield:

CRIKEY: “Have we been subjected to any of the dirty Ken Hooper Westfield tactics around any of our development sites?”

GERRY: “They do it all the time but we can’t catch the buggers…it is a fact of life. These sorts of things have been going on forever. I don’t think we ought to be surprised when we hear about these things. I have been in business for 40 years and it is happening every day of my life.”

Whilst Gerry is a media slut, his wife Katie Page refuses to do interviews so it was good to hear a few comments from her before the end of the meeting.

Anyone who has tried renovating a home would be familiar with her observation when talking about the Domain and Space chain of stores they’ve been trying to roll out.

“We have found different problems with the buildings,” she told shareholders. “The ideal scenario is that you build your own sites. Give me an empty block anyday.”

Peter Fray

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