Steve Vizard’s past is getting thoroughly raked over but one deal which
has still barely been mentioned is his involvement in a company called
Virtual Communities, which was based in Melbourne and was the
brainchild of
Vizard and an advertising creative guy named Chris Clark.

The idea was to sell affordable technology packages to trade
union members and members of the Catholic Church. Steve Vizard
was a sharehlder and director but then fell out with Chris Clark.

Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty was also involved and is understood to
have been less than impressed with Steve Vizard’s conduct. A number of
industry funds looked at investing early on but they largely avoided
taking a hit, unlike St George Bank which stumped up ???? Go to this link and you’ll see that St George is still the Virtual Communities brand.

This press report
suggests St George wrote off $102 million from a variety of internet
investments in two chunks in 2001-02, when new CEO Gail Kelly first
took charge and the dotcom crash had completely taken hold.

Telstra was originally meant to be the ISP but Virtual Communities
ended up doing a deal with Primus which left it directly competing and
conflicted given Vizard’s Telstra directorship.

nyway, the first major complaint from the government came when
Virtual Communities put around a document arguing why it was such a
great proposition for unionists. This proposal actually included a
chart that showed how much more expensive Telstra’s Big Pond was than
the VC proposition.

So here you had a Telstra director involved in a company that was
dressed up to look like a charity but it actually a hard-hitting money
making venture (now valued at $360 million) that bought itself
extraordinarily cheap access to a massive mailing list by bringing
former ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty into the fold. However, Vizard was far
than just involved, this business was actually trying to profit by
highlighting how expensive Telstra’s product was. That’s not exactly
what you’d call corporate loyalty or within the realms of a director’s
fiduciary duties. Then again, maybe Steve is too busy to read the fine
print in the various businesses that he’s involved with? Surely no-one
would be silly enough to do that deliberately.

Despite the subsequent complaint to his Telstra chairman, Vizard
survived this episode but Kelty quit the ACTU last August just as union
opposition to the plan out of NSW was reaching a peak. The key man
behind Virtual Communities was 30-something Porsche-driving advertising
man Chris Clarke, who is the executive chairman of boutique agency Pure
Creative DMC (sic). Clarke made his name when one of the Mars brothers
took a liking to one of his M&M ads and set him up in his own
agency to run the brand throughout most of Asia.

However, just like Vizard has fallen out badly with Malcolm
Turnbull, we hear he has also fallen out with Chris Clarke in recent
times. Don’t know what the source of tension was but apparently
relations are no longer sweet.

Peter Fray

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