When you have a shallow gene pool, interlocking directorships and a bunch of professional directors who take on too many different board positions, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the majority finish up with some sort of prominent blot on the copybook.

Peter Wilcox is the latest to join this group with ASIC’s proceedings against the full James Hardie board that tried to do an asbestos runner to Holland.

Wilcox had a mixed record when running BHP Petroleum from 1986 until 1994, but for the last 13 years he’s been board hopping through takeovers and restructures at companies like North Ltd, FH Faulding, Lend Lease, AMP, Mayne, Woodside Petroleum and, most recently, Telstra.

He got out of Lend Lease just in time in 2000 and sprinted for the James Hardie exit in 2001 – before the really dodgy stuff unfolded in 2003 but too late to avoid ASIC’s proceedings. At Mayne and AMP he came in during problem periods and helped turn things around. The same thing was envisaged when he joined Telstra last year.

However, being subjected to these proceedings does raise questions about whether Wilcox should remain on the Telstra board, let alone replace fellow James Hardie director (since late 2003) Donald McGauchie as Telstra chairman, as The AFR’s John Durie predicted last year.

The Howard Government doesn’t seem to have a problem with rewarding blotted professional directors. Despite knowing ASIC was crawling all over James Hardie, the government supported Wilcox joining Telstra last year. He even joined the CSIRO board last February but yesterday stood aside as chairman.

Similarly, Peter Costello appointed Graham Kraehe to the Reserve Bank board this week despite his role as chairman of the NAB risk committee during the foreign exchange scandal of 2003-04.

Kraehe copped a bit of a bad wrap from the NAB fallout as he did most of the heavy lifting in putting together a new board and then had to fall on his sword after previously bowing out from News Corp and Brambles.

Rob Gerard was yet another inappropriate appointment to the RBA board given the tax office was all over him at the time.

Then you have someone like Qantas chair Margaret Jackson who was offered the Governor-General gig by John Howard five years ago despite having just bowed out from a strife-torn BHP and Pacific Dunlop where she chaired the audit committee.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey