Glenn Dyer writes:

Well fancy that. Last friday morning, with Fosters within reach of finally snaring Southcorp, the man who put the wine giant into play and who helped ruin its image as Australia’s premier wine group, snared a soft front page landing inThe Australian . Lucky him.

And 24 hours later, after the Fosters-Southcorp deal was done, there was yet another soft go for Bob Oatley – this time a lead feature on the front business page in The Weekend Australian. Why so much free publicity? This is the man who sold Rosemount to Southcorp for $1.5 billion after he did a pretty good job of almost destroying the business.

Talk about a PR-friendly story for Oatley! It was full of guff about how Oatley, at 76, was starting on another career, to turn Hamilton Island in Queensland into a playground for the rich, especially people with very big boats! No mention of how the best part of $800 million or so in value was destroyed after Oatley allowed his son-in-law, Keith Lambert, to take the CEO role at the merged Southcorp-Rosemount company and almost drive it into the ground. In the process Southcorp lost valuable market reputation and damaged the image of some of the best wine brands in the country by treating them as a commodity line (“Cheap Grange, anyone?”) and discounting their prices heavily.

In the process, Oatley and Keith Lambert handed enormous power to the big liquor groups, Coles Myer, Woolworths and Metcash (owners of Australian Liquor Management), power that will prove impossible to recover in full, even for the Fosters-Southcorp group. Remember Keith Lambert was paid $14 million or so to go away (a non-compete agreement), Southcorp got new management and it staggered on, crippled and fighting with the Oatley interests until they sold to Fosters when it started moving on the company late last year.

The soft stories in Friday and Saturday’s papers allowed Oatley to avoid any accounting for the failure of the Rosemount deal and his son-in-law’s destruction of value while running the company. But at least Bob Oatley will be off trying to remould Hamilton Island in his image amid some wonderful publicity, courtesy of The Australian.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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