Having a leader who cannot fly must be a strange experience for an airline. Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson has been grounded by deep vein thrombosis so her star-studded board is coming to Melbourne for tomorrow’s post-mortem on the failed $11 billion private equity takeover bid.
The calls for Jacko’s resignation are getting louder and it is simply a matter of when, not if, because institutional shareholders, upset at having their mental abilities attacked, would probably oust her at the AGM in October anyway.
When James Packer sees Jacko for the first time in a while at tomorrow’s board meeting, he might observe that she faces the same challenge as Channel Nine CEO Eddie McGuire – engineering a face-saving departure.
As Australia’s most successful board hopper, Jacko has form on this front. When BHP and Pacific Dunlop were both wobbling in 1999 after losing billions, she didn’t resign to take responsibility for her role as chairman of the audit committee at both companies.
Instead, she was anointed by Gary Pemberton and James Strong as the new Qantas chair and surrendered her two most embarrassing board seats due to “time commitments”.
Melbourne has long had a close knit network of professional directors who look after each other, so it was very interesting to read BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus in the The AFR this week launching a veiled swipe at Qantas:
It all comes back to transparency; you have to have everyone fully informed. And above that, you’ve got to remember that the original point of a board is to be the steward of other people’s capital – and you do get boards thinking it is their capital. That capital is given to you by a range of shareholders.
The way Qantas begrudgingly admitted to its booming profits, refused to break out the earnings of its domestic and international operations and recommending the patently inadequate $5.45-a-share offer to the bitter end were classic examples of forgetting they were “stewards of other people’s capital”.
Jacko, who was sponsored into the directors club by John Gough and assisted by her famous uncle Alan Jackson, should be immediately replaced by former Pioneer International CEO and Commonwealth Bank chairman John Schubert.
Her one possible lifeline is the impending retirement of ANZ chairman Charles Goode. Jacko, an ANZ director since 1992, has reportedly offered herself for the post and her main rival, David Gonski, has just resigned to take the chairmanship at ASX.
However, the disastrous publicity surrounding Qantas should prompt a re-think from the ANZ board. Rather than promoting her to chairman, she should be encouraged to retire from ANZ because, like with Qantas, 15 years service is already too long.