Kerry Stokes suffered a humiliating defeat at the WA News EGM yesterday when less than 20% of the independent shareholders backed his campaign for a board seat.

The combustible Stokes’ personality was on display for all to see yesterday and stories are now starting to seep out about the nine separate legal threats sent to various opponents plus plenty of “you’ll never work for me again” phone calls.

In the end, the man behind Seven’s ill-fated $200 million C7 mega-litigation lost comprehensively again. Here’s how the 15 candidates rated in the popularity stakes as read out by chairman Peter Mansell last night:

  1. Mel Ward: 61.5%
  2. Erich Fraunschiel: 61.5%
  3. Jenny Seabrook: 54.5%
  4. Peter Mansell: 53.5%
  5. Margaret Seares: 47.1%
  6. Peter Abery: 46.8%
  7. Kerry Stokes: 39.8%
  8. Peter Gammell: 39.9%
  9. Steve Harris: 9.78%
  10. Stephen Mayne: 7.6%
  11. Max Brewer: 7.5%
  12. Keith Bales: 6.6%
  13. Aiden Montague: 6.5%
  14. Kevin O’Keeffe: 6.5%
  15. Sharon Armour: 5.9%

However, there will be a major issue around the undirected proxies because they appear to have saved Mansell and fellow director Jenny Seabrook from defeat at the hands of Seven-backed challengers Peter Abery and Margaret Seares.

WA News finally formally released the proxies and complete poll results this morning, but they haven’t broken down the precise amount held by the chairman as undirected proxies. It looks to be decisive.

Stokes has taken such a humiliating home town hit that some observers reckon he could just come out and bid for the whole company with that $2.6 billion of cash sitting on the Seven Network balance sheet.

He ruled this out yesterday, so a more likely scenario is that Seven will creep by another 3% in June to 23%, but that won’t be nearly enough.

Stokes personally received 57.2 million votes in favour and 86.1 million against as 143.3 million of WAN’s 210 million shares were voted – a solid turnout of 68%.

The major institutions clearly opposed Stokes and even the 30,000 mum and dad shareholders strongly backed the incumbents by a ratio of 3 to 1.

Seven controls just over 40 million shares so creeping by another 3% will lift this to just 47 million shares. Buying another 6 million isn’t much good when you are 29 million short of a majority. At this rate, Stokes would need to get to 29% before the numbers stacked up, but this would take until June next year under the six monthly creep provisions.

A more likely scenario is that WA News will offer Seven a compromise board seat, but it can’t be an executive. Step forward Dulcie Boling, Peter Ritchie or one of the other non-executive directors of Seven.

It was telling that Stokes refused to commit to having an independent non-executive chairman and his spokesman is today insisting that Seven’s “A-Team” join the board.

He clearly wants to be a dominant chairman and even gloated to shareholders about being able to fix the distribution issues within two weeks, as if to suggest he would almost become an executive chairman and take over commercial negotiations from CEO Ken Steinke.

Peter Abery was easily the most impressive speaker on the day and would make a perfect replacement chairman for Mansell who, tellingly, didn’t answer the question about his intentions to serve out his three year term as chairman.

Go here for this morning’s WAN interview on Radio National’s Media Report.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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