With the death of Kerry Packer and the departure of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to Delaware, Westfield founder Frank Lowy is the last of Australia’s great mega-billionaires who fronts shareholders at his AGM each year
James Packer, Andrew Forrest, Kerry Stokes and Gerry Harvey still make for interesting AGM combat, but the likes of Frank, Rupert and Kerry performed on a higher plane given the aggression, war stories and vast experience they bring to any situation.
The Westfield AGM on Friday was a lively affair, although 77-year-old Frank was far less combative than our first three encounters and seemed to almost enjoy the exchanges.
The tone of the Westfield AGMs in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2007 and 2008 vary substantially and the big difference came with Frank’s move to merge all the Westfield vehicles in 2004, thereby removing the inherent conflicts of interest and poor governance associated with the third party management model.
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The battle on this front now moves to the Macquarie and Babcock listed vehicles, but Frank did offer up this reflection about what internalising management meant to Westfield.
We finally got a decent audio record of what happened at this year’s AGM, thanks to the webcast, and the three most interesting exchanges were as follows:
- Frank reveals his stake is debt free;
- Frank defends his huge salary;
- Frank commits to serve another three years as executive chairman.
Despite double dipping with family salaries of $36 million on top of the $180 million in annual distributions that the Lowys draw from their completely debt free $3 billion stake in Westfield, shareholders don’t seem concerned and accept Frank’s argument that he gives away “many millions more” than his $16 million salary each year.
After the sustained applause died down, he replied: “Thank you very much, of course I like the applause. Who doesn’t?”
Presumably these donations includes Frank’s funding of The Lowy Institute, which does give him access to excellent international advice that supplements what his direct Westfield executives know about global politics and economics.
Cynicism aside, you can only applaud what David Lowy has done at the Temora Aviation Museum, as The 7.30 Report revealed last year, but a couple of shareholders made the point after the meeting that Lowy family donations are completely irrelevant when discussing these excessive salaries.
What Frank does with his personal wealth has nothing to do with Westfield shareholders and the record shows that he refuses to do a James Packer and donate his services for free.
Then again, at least he doesn’t cream as much from Westfield as what Rupert Murdoch extracts from News Corp by way of salary each year.
*The latest Mayne Report video critiques Alan Kohler’s budget commentary.