Australia hasn’t produced too many IT entrepreneurs so you’ve got to
doff your cap to Computershare founder Chris Morris for building the
world’s largest share registry company based on proprietory computer
systems. However, there’s more than meets the eye in yesterday’s announcement
that Morris would become executive chairman, while independent
chairman Sandy Murdoch is demoted to humble director and Stuart Crosby
is promoted to the title of “President and chief executive” and joins the board.

Crikey hears that this scenario was triggered by a big offer for Crosby
to go elsewhere. The two most obvious poachers are Link Market
Services, the old ASX-Perpetual share
registry business which has a tidy duopoly with Computershare in the
Australian market and is now in the hands of private equity owners, and
the ASX-SFE combination, given that new CEO Robert Ellstone is looking
for executives with some experience and Crosby built his reputation at
the ASX.

The announcement of the changes was made in a very brief statement
to the ASX and buried with the full year results, but Morris has gone
into surprising detail in a missive to employees which Crikey has
obtained. The highlights include:

This
was a difficult decision for me and one I have not taken lightly. Since
founding Computershare in 1978 it has been (apart from my family) the
most important thing in my life. So why the change: was I pushed by
the board? Is my health failing? Have I lost interest? Absolutely none
of these. The truth is I have been running Computershare for nearly 30
years and I believe that it is now time to move from the day to day
running of the business and focus on strategic development and
acquisitions.

Stuart and I have worked together for years, most recently very closely in the restructure and management of the UK
business, and our strategic and management ideas are very similar. I
have total confidence in his ability to lead Computershare and I am
sure that anyone who has met him would agree that he is the right
person to take over. In fact, in any other circumstance I would have
stayed on as President and CEO for another few years but Stuart is keen
and ready to move into the role (and I did not want to risk losing him
to another company).

The
move to Executive Chairman is not unusual for founders of major global
companies. Among these are Bill Gates of Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch of
News Corp, Steve Jobs of Apple and Gerry Harvey of Harvey Norman.
Stuart will have the day to day responsibility for the running of the
business and I will be concentrating on the strategic direction of
Computershare. High on my agenda, as Executive Chairman, will be
visiting our offices globally and meeting as many of our Computershare
family as possible.

I
am more than ever committed to the success of Computershare and I
believe that with Stuart moving into the President and CEO role and
myself taking up the position as Executive Chairman that Computershare
will continue to go from strength to strength and continue to be
“simply the best.” Inevitably there will be some negative press and
possible speculation that Computershare is now a takeover target which,
like most press reports on this subject, will be wrong.

The rolling of chairman Sandy Murdoch, who didn’t cover himself in
glory chairing ERG from 1994 until 2002, is made more interesting by
the fact that his son David quit as a Computershare marketing executive recently to
join UBS. Having been a director for more than a decade, why didn’t Murdoch quit altogether?

And Crosby was only promoted to chief operating officer three months
ago so it has been a rapid rise indeed. The idea that the role of
Morris will change is also a little odd, because he is already known
for constantly flying around the world focusing on acquisitions. The
only change will be a deterioration in governance by installing a
founder as CEO, even though he only owns about 10% of the stock.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12