The re-appointment last week of James
Strong to the Qantas board and as chairman of the Australia Council
makes the current chairman of Woolworths and Insurance Australia Group
arguably the nation’s number one professional
director. For starters, there are only five remaining blokes who chair
two top 100 companies in
breach of the ASX corporate governance guidelines:

Charles Goode:
Woodside Petroleum and ANZ

Don Argus:
BHP-Billiton and Brambles

James Strong
: Woolworths and Insurance Australia Group

Rick Allert:
Coles Myer and Axa Asia Pacific

Mark Johnson:
AGL and Macquarie Infrastructure Group

Peter Willcox, Graham Kraehe and John Morschel have bowed out
from this list in recent times after vacating the chairs at AMP, NAB
and Leighton respectively. And former Wesfarmers CEO Michael Chaney
will replace Charles Goode on this list when
he assumes the Woodside chair next year, given that he’s already
chairing NAB.

However, does anyone else sense that James Strong is preparing to
retire from either Woolworths or IAG? His workload is ridiculous
when you consider he also chairs the privately owned Rip Curl, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Board,
the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australia Business Arts Foundation.
Oh, and he’s also a director of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation
and an outfit called Dorna Sports SL.

The reason that I reckon Strong will bail from Woolworths is the
increasing odium surrounding its insidious grog and pokies operation,
something which doesn’t sit comfortably with being Mr Community
swanning around with the A-list at opening nights.

Woolworths has a 75-25%
hotels and pokies joint venture with controversial Victorian hotelier Bruce Mathieson, who gloated in BRW‘s
2006 Rich List edition that it is worth $4 billion,
although the magazine didn’t buy it because Bruce was only valued at $850 million.

Woolworths is certainly top heavy with Victorian political
risk based on these extraordinary figures quoted by The AFR’s Chanticleer columnist John Durie last week:

Woolies has about 83 pubs in Victoria, making it the
biggest single operator out of 1850 pubs in the state. More to the
point, its sites house some 42% of the poker machines outside Crown.
This means it collects about $250 million of the $2.4 billion in poker
machine profits.

I’m contemplating a simultaneous tilt at the Woolworths board and state parliament in November this year on this vehemently anti-pokies platform but suspect James Strong won’t be around to defend the destruction caused by this “product”.

Peter Fray

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