Don Argus tells us to “look at my record” when assessing BHP Billiton’s $9.2 billion cash takeover bid for WMC Resources. So we’ve peered into the annals of corporate Australia and reached a very firm conclusion — WMC Resources CEO Andrew Michelmore will be fired with a hefty payout if BHPB is successful.
No other professional Australian non-executive director gets within cooee of matching Don’t Argue’s ability when it comes to firing CEOs with big payouts. And for some reason the man we labelled a patriot yesterday, for keeping corporate headquarters in Australia, has a penchant for firing Australians and replacing them with foreigners. Maybe Don is blackballing all Australian CEOs because his anointing of Frank Cicutto worked out so badly?
Leading by example, Argus himself retired from the NAB in 1999 not long after buying Homeside and collected a whopping $9.26 million in his final year, which included $7.47 million in “retirement allowances”.
He first joined the BHP board in November 1996 and was instrumental in the 1998 and 1999 palace coups which saw both CEO John Prescott and chairman Jerry Ellis ousted. Argus assumed the chairmanship in April 1999 and it wasn’t long before the market was told that Prescott had walked out with a whopping $11.17 million in his final year.
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With Aussie John ousted, American Paul Anderson joined the BHP board in December 1998 and then Don let him terminate himself a year early as part of the merger with Billiton that saw him collect $18 million in 2002 and about $75 million over four years when you include the profits on his three million-plus shares.
Anderson’s successor, South African Brian Gilbertson, fell out with Argus two years ago and his estimated payout is worth about $30 million although it depends on how many years he lives for on that $1.5 million annual indexed pension.
Then you have Don’s record at Southcorp and Brambles. He joined the the Southcorp board in May 1999 and was one of the non-executive directors who approved two outrageous CEO contracts. When Aussie Graham Kraehe retired, Southcorp opted for American Tom Park who landed $10.1 million for just five months work chair in 2000-01.
The board, in its wisdom, decided to do the nationalistic thing and save Rosemount from foreign suitors in a $1.5 billion takeover that saw its Scottish-born Canadian-American CEO Keith Lambert installed as boss of the whole enterprise. Lambert lasted two years and after a complete disaster walked out of there with $6.16 million in 2003.
Then we have Don’t Argue’s wonderful contributions at Brambles, where he joined the board in May 1999 and quickly assumed the chairmanship by September 1999. Patriotic Don put a stop to plans to relocate the Brambles head office to the US in 2001 and Aussie John Fletcher promptly resigned with an $8.65 million payout, although at least this was after 27 years of effective service.
Hong Kong-born GKN boss Sir CK Chow was brought out from London to run the dual-listed company and Don put him on a ridiculously generous package that guaranteed him a two-year payout, no matter how badly he performed. Sir CK scored an excessive $4.1 million in 2002-03 but then resigned without a payout to run the Hong Kong train system.
Andrew Michelmore must be licking his chops at the prospect of being Don’s latest “victim” as BHP attempts to save an estimated $115 million in costs, partly through firing hundreds of staff after merging the two biggest mining head offices left in Melbourne.
The Don Argus CEO payouts
Don Argus: NAB, $9.26m
John Prescott: BHP, $11.17m
Tom Park: Southcorp, $10.1m
John Fletcher: Brambles, $8.65m
Paul Anderson: BHP, $18m
Brian Gilbertson: BHP, $30m
Keith Lambert: Southcorp, $6.2m
Sir CK Chow: Brambles, $4.1m
Average final year payout: $12.18m