The Transurban AGM last night was a slick affair and it was a full house at the RACV Club as punters warmed to the 5.30pm kick-off, something other companies should embrace.
Chairman Laurie Cox and chief executive Kim Edwards both have much to be happy about, having pocketed more than $12 million each in fees, salary and share profits over the past decade.
Whilst Victorian motorists are paying more than $300 million a year on one of the world’s most lucrative tollroads, investors have enjoyed returns of more than 1000% courtesy of dreadfully incompetent negotiations by both the Kennett and Bracks governments.
Transurban is now an $8 billion company which wants to go to the next level with a major expansion program in the US, centred around Virginia, and shareholders last night approved a new Bermuda-based vehicle to raise capital.
Given that Transurban has just had a bruising High Court victory over the Tax Office and expects to pay largely tax-deferred distributions right through until 2010 courtesy of the original $1 billion-plus infrastructure bond funding in 1996, I suggested they were pushing the tax envelope by now running off to Bermuda.
Laurie claimed Bermuda was a common base for Australian companies expanding into the US and when asked for examples, excluding his Bermuda-loving mates at Macquarie Bank, cited unnamed property trusts and Babcock & Brown.
Macquarie also unveiled an extremely high-powered US advisory board comprising the following heavy hitters:
Alfred Berkeley: investment banker and former President of the NASDAQ.
Rodney Slater: Clinton’s Transport secretary and former administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.
Sam Skinner: former White House Chief of Staff to George Bush Snr and CEO of transport company USF Corp.
Peter Fitzgerald: Republican Senator for Illinois for six years and now a Virginia-based banker.
I had an American mate at the meeting who asked whether these US political luminaries were comfortable being associated with a Bermuda play and Laurie was keen to stress they were not sitting on any formal boards or bodies and were expected to meet quarterly and just help out with “hand holding” during dealings with various US governments.
All the resolutions sailed through easily, although Laurie’s re-election attracted a 10% protest vote, possibly because of his big workload and apparent conflict in being an executive director of Macquarie Bank when Macquarie Infrastructure Group is Transurban’s biggest competitor.
All up, it was a good 90-minute AGM that was slick, informative and nutter-free. If only they were all like this.