Former lawyer and Telstra director, Elizabeth Nosworthy, hasn’t had much luck lately. Or more accurately, shareholders in companies which Nosworthy is a director of haven’t had much luck lately, if the share price of companies which she oversees is the benchmark.

Company Role Past 12 months share price performance
Commander Communications Chairperson Down 93%
Babcock & Brown Deputy Chairperson Down 65%
GPT Director Down 43%
Ventracor Director Down 57%

Nosworthy has been on all those boards for at least three years, and has been chairperson of Commander since 2003.

The fact that Nosworthy is still chair of Commander is mystifying, given that the company has lost virtually all of its market value and yesterday, announced its fifth earnings downgrade in the space of a year. Commander is now trading at a lowly 12 cents, with the market valuing the entire company at a pitiful $27 million. When Nosworthy became chairperson of Commander in 2003, the company was worth more than $300 million. For her trouble, Nosworthy has collected directors’ fees of more than $550,000.

Amusingly, in the 2006 Annual Report, Nosworthy gloated that:

The 2006 Annual Report is the fourth during my role as Chairman. I am pleased to report on each occasion I have been able to inform shareholders that the company has overachieved on its EBITDA profit guidance.

One suspects the tone of the 2008 Annual Report will be a little more somber.

At Babcock, Nosworthy was one of the directors who signed off on the purchase of Alinta’s power assets in a complicated and overpriced deal (which has now required BNB to provide “back-stop” financing needs for B&B Power). B&B Power is now looking to undertake asset sales after struggling to refinance its $3.1 billion debt facility.

As Stephen Mayne has noted in the past, Nosworthy has had some independence issues at Babcock. Nosworthy was formerly chairperson of Prime Infrastructure Group which later became Babcock & Brown Infrastructure. When Nosworthy was chair of Prime, it allegedly paid Babcock a $20 million fee for its acquisition of New Zealand power company Powerco. Not long after paying the fee, Nosworthy joined the Babcock board as an independent director.

Nosworthy also has her hands full at medical device maker, Ventracor, with shareholders in open revolt at the company’s performance. The Australian’s Rebecca Urban noted last month that a group of disgruntled shareholders wrote an open-letter criticizing the Ventracor board and CEO, Peter Crosby, and noting that:

Ventracor’s share price has dropped more than 80 per cent since Mr Crosby joined the company in February 2005…the poor strategy and performance by Mr Crosby has created a situation in which the company objectives are delayed and additional funds will be required in order to bring the product to the US market, diluting the value of the company for existing shareholders.

Ventracor shareholders are apparently not impressed that Crosby earned $2.5 million last year (which according to Urban, made him the 51st highest paid CEO of an ASX listed company). Nosworthy is on Ventracor’s Nomination Committee.

Not all is lost for one of Australia’s most prolific company directors — Nosworthy still holds more than 53,589 Commander shares, worth $6,430.

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Peter Fray
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