The last time a corporate rival took a position on the Brambles register was way back in 1985 when TNT, then run by the controversial Sir Peter Abeles, engaged Rene Rivkin to snap up a hostile 10% stake.

The peace deal was ultimately brokered a few months later by investment banker Mark Burrows, who persuaded the Brambles board to secretly fund a mystery vehicle called Ailette Investments which bought back the TNT stake but notoriously didn’t disclose it until a $79 million profit was revealed in 1989.

Burrows joined the Brambles board in 1987 and 20 years later is the deputy chairman straddling a tricky situation after the obsessively secretive Brambles outed both Toll Holdings and its offshoot Asciano for moving onto the company’s share register.

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Burrows is also executive chairman of US investment bank Lazard. However, his ongoing status is a little unclear given the US firm’s recent purchase of Carnegie Wylie and installation of John Wylie to run the combined investment banking operation.

Burrows’s other main gig is deputy chairman of Fairfax Media which recently joined with Macquarie Bank to buy Southern Cross Broadcasting and controversially retained Lazard as one of its advisers – a decidedly 1980s move given that corporate governance these days frowns upon directors who double up as conflicted service providers.

Brambles hasn’t made the same mistake because it has retained UBS to defend itself – although it could hardly have signed up Lazard given that it was John Wylie who dreamt up the Toll bid for Patrick Corp.

Asciano engaged Macquarie Securities to conduct its move onto the Brambles share register which is a lovely irony given the bad blood between Toll and Macquarie in the final days of the Patrick takeover struggle.

And the decision of Toll to once again engage Citigroup for advice also speaks volumes for the fact that Paul Little didn’t have any problem with Citi’s trading in Patrick shares during the takeover battle – a blindingly obvious conflict of interest which led to ASIC’s failed court action against Citigroup.

As for the claims that Asciano and Toll acted independently in attacking Brambles, this just sounds too cute by half. They have to say this given the ACCC undertakings, but these lads really do know how to push the envelope.

Given Toll’s frenetic takeover record, isn’t it time Mark Rowsthorn and Paul Little took a deep breath and actually concentrated on running their empires for a change.

Besides, the synergies between a global pallet business and either Asciano or Toll are hard to discern and the days of easy credit and leveraged buyouts are passing anyway.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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