It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Dr Ken Moss, the chairman of cement
products giant, Boral,
and soon to depart National Australia Bank director.
The distance from feather duster to rooster and back again is sometimes
the shortest distance between two deals in business, and one of the
longest in terms of public embarrassment.

Take the recent experience of Dr Ken Moss, the National Australia Bank’s
once-annointed ‘senior director’, now about to be ‘former’. With one of
his other hats on, the chairmanship of cement products giant, Boral,
he’s just found out that Graeme Samuel has caught Alan Fels’s complaint
at the ACCC. He believes in competition!

Wednesday evening’s announcement from Samuel that the Commission would
oppose Boral’s bid for Adelaide and Brighton Cement would not have been
sweet music to the ears of Dr Ken, no doubt still rankled by being made
to walk the plank at the NAB (along with Ed Tweedell) as part of the
‘get rid of Cathy Walter’ settlement.

That uncermonious dumping by fellow directors, led by Graeme ‘renewal’
Kraehe, the erstwhile chairman, would not have made Dr Ken a happy
chappy, seeing how he was elevated to almost deputy chairman in February
when Charles Allen quit over the forex fumble in dodgy options trading
and Kraehe was made his replacement.

From Number Two to out the door in around three months is pretty quick,
even in the helterskelter business world we now live in.

In fact the gestation period for the Adelaide Brighton bid has been
longer, much longer, and is currently extended to June 4.

But for how long. Boral basically says it’s reserved its options, looking
at the ACCC reasoning and will get back to us with a final, definitive
yea or nay to continue or abort the deal.

The ACCC’s decision is something of a surprise as many in business and
in the commentariat had decided this one would slip though to the keeper
without too much fuss a long time ago. Boral’s sales pitch about how
keenly it priced cement to keep out exports, thereby doing local
consumers a big favour, was no doubt a winner in its lobbying efforts.
As was the commitment to sell Adelaide Brighton’s half ownership of its
distribution arm, ICL.

In a statement on Thursday night Boral warned darkly about the dangers
from exports, with 50 million tonnes of cement clinker producing surplus
capacity in the Asian region. Is this the cement industry version of the
Red Hordes and will Australia be the next ‘domino’ to fall in the
relentless march of cheap, surplus cement across Asia Pacific?

Who knows, but it can’t be making for a peaceful time at the moment for
Dr Ken.

But Dr Ken can be consoled by his chairmanship of Centennial Coal, and
his board membership of GPT and Adsteam Marine, although the latter
isn’t a brilliant performer at the moment, unlike Boral.

Dr Ken is also chairman of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and
was CEO of Howard Smith, which was snaffled by Michael Chaney’s
Wesfarmers who was after the old HardwareHouse.

But perhaps there’s a large element of sweet irony here. Crikey knows
this isn’t very scientific, or the stuff of brilliant MBAs, but after Dr
Ken’s high-handed attitude towards shareholder democracy at last year’s
Boral AGM, perhaps the karma bus of business has careered around the
corner, and Dr Ken is in its way.

Crikey readers will remember how Dr Ken rammed through the change in the
Boral constitution to lift the minimum required to call a special
general meeting of shareholders from 100 to 500. It wasn’t one of the
finest moments in shareholder democracy in Australia, so the ACCC’s ‘no’
and the changes on the NAB board are perhaps a ‘get even’ in the scheme
of things.

By the way up till the 2003 AGM Boral had two of the least successful
Australian businessmen on the board in recent years. Dr Roland Williams,
he of Australian Magnesium retired at the AGM, but Mark Rayner, he who
was chairman of the NAB, but more importantly, oversaw the collapse of
Pasminco, remains a director.

Peter Fray

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