Dean Paatsch is the biggest kingmaker in Australian corporate governance. The former lawyer and super fund executive heads up the proxy advisory outfit Risk Metrics which is paid a fortune by those who look after Australia’s $1.2 trillion in super to tell them how to vote their stock at AGMs.
Paatsch is a master-networker who also plays the media game very astutely. For instance, the big Risk Metrics governance conference in Melbourne last Friday featured sessions chaired by the likes of Fairfax heavy hitter Michael West and Business Spectator’s Robert Gottliebsen.
Paatsch granted a rare on-camera interview last week for this video blog after the conference and when asked about the secrets of his success, he attributed it to Risk Metrics pioneering the strategy of “approaching the companies for their view” which had “opened up a new dialogue between companies and institutional investors.”
When asked for his number one corporate governance wish going forward, Paatsch came up with: “A new deal between institutional investors and directors whereby the talent pool is refreshed.”
The only problem with these claims is the events of the past two weeks.
Steve Harris was clearly the best outside candidate for the WA News board yet Risk Metrics passed him over merely because he was unavailable for a chat. Instead, a thoroughly underwhelming board was returned with no change.
And then we have Alumina Ltd, which is Australia’s worst example of an overpaid, underworked old boys club. After five years of railing against this post box company with a handful of employees, I cranked the campaign up this year by running for the board at yesterday’s AGM.
If any of these institutions or their proxy advisers had bothered coming to the AGM, they would have seen the board get comprehensively carved up during the two hour meeting.
Despite getting sledged in the notice of meeting and during the meeting by chairman Don Morley, about 75% of those present backed the call for board renewal after hearing this hard-hitting campaign speech.
Despite getting elected from the floor, I was massively flogged in the poll by the institutions who all voted by proxy before the meeting. And did a single institutional investors or proxy adviser make any inquiries at all before voting more than $3 billion worth of stock against the challenger. Nope, not a peep.
So much for pioneering a new dialogue. Risk Metrics has just preserved the most entrenched and undeserving board in the country when Paatsch claims to believe in a New Deal to refresh the directors’ club gene pool.
It’s time these proxy advisers spent less time pulling the strings with media commentators and instead came out of the shadows to directly prosecute their cases.
In the case of defending the Alumina lunch club, I look forward to hearing it. However, the Alumina backers should first read this comprehensive account of everything that happened yesterday.