Destruction of an icon is not an indictable offence under Australian law, which is fortunate for the CEO and board of Coles. If it were, they could have been incarcerated for their work in plundering one of Australia’s great retail institutions.

The performance of John Fletcher and the rest of the Coles board — culminating last Friday with an unbelievable 10% profit downgrade followed by the announcement that the whole company was up for auction – must rate as one of the most incompetent pantomimes in Australian corporate history. So appallingly have they managed Coles that if they had not followed the profit downgrade with a “for sale” sign, the shares would have plummeted and Fletcher & Co would have lost their jobs. In other words, they sold the company to save their bacon and keep shareholders at bay.

But this is retail – and there’s more! For not only do we get the dismantling of Coles and its likely sale to foreign owners. Fletcher also stands to walk away with more than $50 million for his incompetence and Coles chairman Rick Allert has $1.14 million in retirement benefits awaiting him, having already pocketed almost $1.2 million over the last two years.

White collar offences don’t come much worse than these, even if they are tarted up to look nice for the buyers and shareholders.

Peter Fray

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