While all the attention is on the
allegations against Dick Pratt and Visy, there is an uncontested fall from
grace tucked away in the ACCC case that deserves inspection: Russell Jones.

Jones “resigned” as Amcor’s CEO when his
board discovered in late 2004 that the company was involved in a cardboard box
cartel. There has been room for speculation about how much Jones might have
known about the Australian cartel while busily attending to Amcor’s growing
international business, but the ACCC’s
submissions yesterday remove all doubt about that.

According to the
ACCC, Jones met Dick Pratt in May 2001 and the two confirmed their knowledge of
the agreement to rig the market.

The ACCC indemnity for Amcor and its
executives depends on their full co-operation. As there are no charges against
Jones, it seems reasonable to think he is going along with the ACCC version of
that meeting and his evidence will be crucial in making the case against Pratt.
(Dick Pratt himself denies all knowledge
of a cartel and says the charge will be defended. If there was a cartel, it was
run further down the line.)

Thus it seems Russell Jones is done as a
hands-on corrupter of markets.

Jones isn’t Australia’s
third richest man or a major philanthropist, but he was one of our leading
chief executives, being paid the usual mere millions of dollars, someone
generally seen as doing a good job in first extracting Amcor from a period of
difficulty and then leading its international
expansion.

Indeed, I was once part of a judging panel
for a business leader of the year award that had him marked down as a potential
winner if he maintained form.

The ACCC and the price of cardboard boxes
have put paid to that.

It is a significant fall from grace –
someone at the top of a major blue chip Australian company with all the support
and assistance that goes with it, coming unstuck over cardboard.

Somewhere further down the track, there
might be room for reflection over what motivated him, what tempted him to cross
an ethical as well as legal line. It wasn’t his own company, it wasn’t his own
money – unless, perhaps, all the performance incentives payments built into CEO
contracts aligned his financial interests just a little too closely with
profits.

In some companies, the big bonus culture
for senior executives has led to unconscionable conduct towards suppliers,
towards staff. Now we can wonder if it’s damaging customers as well.

Because
something is happening here

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Peter Fray

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