It’s been six years since our last encounter but Frank Lowy was in fine form at the Westfield AGM in Sydney this morning as we jousted over a wide range of issues.
Let’s start first with the news that came out of the meeting:
- Lord Levy, the former Westfield adviser in Britain facing jail over the cash for peerages scandal, has nothing to do with the shopping centre giant any more;
- Unprecedented protest votes of 16% and 17% respectively against the re-election of Fred Hilmer and Gary Weiss shows that shareholders want independent directors not overburdened with excessive gigs;
- Frank will eventually follow the David Clarke model at Macquarie Bank and step back to become non-executive chairman but just not yet;
- Westfield has not secured a confidentiality agreement from Fred Hilmer preventing him from writing a Fairfax-style tell all book revealing inside company secrets.
We had some fun on the question of Lowy family salaries which totaled $32 million last year, including more than $14 million to Frank.
Asked why he doesn’t follow the James and Kerry Packer model and work for free, Frank said that Westfield shareholders were doing well enough without him donating his services.
There were also some interesting exchanges on Frank’s time commitments given all this publicity about his current controversies over possible bank purchases in Israel, the revolution at Soccer Australia and his other board commitments.
Interestingly, Frank revealed that he only attended one meeting of the Daily Mail Group Trust board over his final two years as a director, yet when the same question arose with the massively over-committed Gary Weiss, Frank said he’d only missed one Westfield board meeting in five years.
Frank showed himself to be a corporate governance troglodyte once again when he said we were “just not on the same page” about independent directors.
He refused to explain why he has to be the board gatekeeper and chair the nomination committee, but latched onto my comment about Dean Wills, David Gonski and Fred Hilmer that you cease to be independent after more than 10 years of service.
Westfield only had five genuinely independent directors before today’s meeting when two of them, Frank Vincent and John Studdy, retired. Frank admitted the likes of Gonski and Hilmer were close personal friends but still tried to claim they were independent.
The Lowy family now have four of the 11 board seats and draw enormous salaries despite owning less than 10% of the company. Still, Westfield has an amazing record and everyone knows you’re buying into a Lowy dominated company that has delivered spectacularly over the years.