Roger Corbett has decided to go out with all guns blazing in his final week as Woolworths CEO after the retailing juggernaut confirmed it had paid $137 million for a 9.3% blocking stake in New Zealand’s Warehouse Group.
Whilst the usual Woolworths method of market domination and screwing suppliers is clearly the game plan across the ditch after last year’s $2.3 billion takeover of Progressive Enterprises, there is a little ego matter that might be involved as well.
Long-time readers of Crikey will remember Elizabeth Knight’s well-sourced SMH column in early 2001 explaining that Roger fell out badly with then Woolworths chairman John Dahlsen, who lost the power struggle and quit, although you’d never know it from this mealy mouthed ASX announcement.
However, Dahlsen didn’t take it lying down because within a few months he had joined the board of Warehouse Group which was pushing aggressively into Australia. Corbett was outraged and Woolies seriously considered suing.
The Warehouse challenge floundered and Corbett’s final victory over Dahlsen, who is Australia’s talkback radio king as founder and chairman of Southern Cross Broadcasting, would be buying the Warehouse Group. Dahlsen will be one of the independent directors assessing any offers that come through from Woolworths.
Meanwhile, Woolies are playing strange games with my nomination for their board on an anti-pokies platform.
A letter arrived this week claiming I had to own 5000 shares and there was no vacancy, but rather than telling me to go away, it states: “we invite you to reconsider your nomination”.
Err, no. Send out the notice of meeting and if I really have to borrow $100,000 before the vote then so be it.
Woolies ran the fairest of my 24 corporate tilts in 2000 because they didn’t pull the “no vacancy” trick and didn’t urge shareholders to vote “against”.
Sadly, after I almost got elected on a big donkey vote with 54% of the directed proxies in favour, they changed the constitution the following year to put up the 5,000 share ownership barrier – the largest of its type in corporate Australia. The changes also allowed them invoke the no vacancy rort – which they are now rorting.
When is the AEC finally going to take over corporate election?