Brian Healey has been the chairman of Centro Properties Group since 1993. As the man who hired CEO Andrew Scott back in 1997, he really should take a lot of responsibility for this week’s debacle.

Brian is a very busy 73-year-old because we’ve got a date later today at the Incitec Pivot AGM, where he is the deputy chairman. What odds he won’t show, especially given he is not up for re-election?

Unfortunately, the meeting starts at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre at 2pm and then I’ve got a 3pm appointment at the ABC for a one hour pre-record of the Radio National program, The National Interest, which is hosted by Peter Mares and goes to air with its “year in review” discussion at midday on Sunday.

Time permitting, I’ll be pointing to the contrast between the performance of Centro and Incitec Pivot, with Centro shares falling from $10 to $1.20 over the past six months, whilst Incitec Pivot has become only the second Australian-based stock to crack the magical $100 mark. Indeed, the stock is up from $35 at the start of the year, but that doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be heaping praise on Healey tomorrow.

You see, Healey came to the Incitec Pivot board in June 2003 when it’s old parent company, Orica, still owned 70%. As a director of Orica since 1996, Healey presumably supported this hair-brained sell down in May 2006. Then again, Healey quit Orica after the sale and stuck with Incitec Pivot so maybe he was against the sale.

The Orica meeting is usefully scheduled for the Friday before Christmas, and it will be reasonable to pose the following question to chairman Don Mercer:

Why did we sell our 70% stake in Incitec Pivot in May 2006 at $21 a share, when it is now trading at $106.58. Who has been held responsible for this dreadful decision which has denied Orica shareholders $3.5 billion of upside. Yes, it was nice to book a $399 million profit from the $857 million sale but surely the blossoming of Incitec Pivot is now a source of utter embarrassment for the Orica board and management which decided to cut it loose.

Healey is the oldest non-executive chairman of a major Australian company and must now surely be regretting having stuck around too long at Centro. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Foster’s because it just seems to attract the chairs of companies which implode.

Former HIH Insurance chairman Geoffrey Cohen beat a hasty retreat from the Foster’s board on 28 May, 2001, which was the morning of an EGM that would have seen his first public outing since the insurer went into liquidation 11 weeks earlier on March 15. Amusingly, Foster’s managed to not mention HIH when announcing Cohen’s departure, which is presumably what Incitec Pivot will probably do when Healey inevitably bails, as he must.

The other good recent example of a scandal leading to rapid-fire resignations from a range of boards was Swiss bank account enthusiast Trevor Kennedy, who was publicly exposed by The AFR, along with Graham Richardson and the late Rene Rivkin, on October 30, 2003.

By November 17 he had quit all seven boards, probably because he was facing three public outings at AGMs over the next nine days. Interestingly, the Oil Search announcement at the time made no mention of the Swiss banking scandal.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on the movements of the Centro board because the Melbourne business establishment, far more so than other cities, has a habit of tolerating directors who have failed miserably in other places. Surely the destruction of $5 billion in one week at Centro is grounds for swift retirements from a range of boards.

Peter Fray

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