While extremely jealous of my better half’s success in getting elected to the RACV board, today we’ve got another example of the benefits that can flow from contesting a ballot, even when you lose.

I stood for the board of Tasmanian tree-lopping giant Gunns Ltd last year and this is what appeared in the notice of meeting:

Stephen Mayne is an Australian journalist and shareholder advocate who believes Gunns Ltd needs an independent non-executive chairman. Mr Mayne also believes that the executive chairman of Gunns Ltd, Mr John Gay, should be subjected to the three-year election cycle like all the other directors are.

While I flopped as usual, the original letter of nomination offered to withdraw if John Gay stopped being the only executive chairman of a top 200 company who refused to submit himself to election each year.

Gay was too bull-headed to yield but I told the AGM I would run every year until he was prepared to make this smallest of sacrifices and join other executive chairs who face elections such as James Packer, Kerry Stokes, Gerry Harvey and David Clarke.

Whilst CEOs are exempt under Corporations law, by 2003 John Gay and Rupert Murdoch were the only two Australian executive chairmen who refused to offer themselves for re-election every three years. Rupert then took News Corp to America and will face what might be his first ever election at next year’s News Corp AGM.

John Gay is not known for bending to pressure but the notice of meeting for the Gunns AGM has just landed and Gay will face his first election in the listed company’s 20 year history at the 2006 AGM in Launceston on 17 November. That’s one small step forward for corporate democracy.

Let’s hope the three largest Gunns institutional shareholders, Perpetual, Concord Capital and Promina, take the opportunity to send this corporate cowboy a message about the importance of having an independent, non-executive chairman.

Besides, his cavalier approach to doing business – which includes Gunns doing renovations to the home of Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon and issuing dubious scattergun stopper writs against its myriad critics of old growth logging – warrants a big protest vote in its own right.

Peter Fray

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