Whenever I’m asked what have been my favourite AGMs after close to 400 experiences, the answer is usually: “any sort of media company”.
This is because media bosses such as Kerry Stokes, the Packers or the Murdochs are colourful and combative characters.
These characters also hate scrutiny, rendering themselves completely hypocritical in advocating democracy and free speech through their businesses whilst squashing dissent or fair election processes at their AGMs.
Witness the way Rupert Murdoch completely censored the platform and refused to even tell shareholders the external candidate’s age in the 2002 News Corp board tilt and then how Kerry Stokes confiscated the recorder and then called security at last year’s Channel Seven AGM.
The third element of extra interest at big media company AGMs is to look at how other media outlets report hard hitting exchanges between an activist and a rival operation.
All of these elements came into play at the AGM of Ten Network Holdings at Star City Casino in Sydney yesterday.
Whilst executive chairman Nick Falloon is neither colourful nor a mogul, a question on the hunt for new directors to pad out the five man board managed to draw Bermudan-based billionaire and 12% shareholder Bruce Gordon to his feet from the front row.
After the debacle with David Evans at Fairfax, it was extraordinary that Bruce confessed he’d like to put someone on the Ten board to keep him informed on his loss-making “$300 to $400 million” investment which is now only worth $200 million.
For a man who owns Channel Nine in Adelaide and Perth, Bruce clearly has no concept of conflict of interest and is remarkably upbeat about his $100 million-plus loss at Channel Ten where he has no prospect of ever exerting any influence given ACMA and everyone else regards him as a direct competitor.
Long-time Channel Ten director Hungry Jack Cowin, who BRW reckons is worth $486 million, was also drawn into the debate during proceedings yesterday and after the meeting he was happy to confide his Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb business is raking in profits of $16 million a year.
The last Channel Ten AGM I attended was in December 2001 at Melbourne’s Sofitel Hotel and it was a lively affair that lasted about 90 minutes. Even since then Ten has held their AGMs in Sydney and they have always been wrapped up inside an hour with very little debate from the floor.
That all changed yesterday as you can see from these edited audio highlights. Ten copped it primarily because they refused to offer shareholders a share purchase plan after doing a discounted $138 million institutional placement with the big end of town. All the waffle and excuses were pathetic, as the News Ltd coverage noted.
When the Westfield board was threatened with a board tilt in similar circumstances earlier this year, they folded and the investors in the subsequent SPP who stumped up $60 million at $10.04 a pop are today $11.5 million in front. Where’s the commission?
That said, the Ten tilt yesterday flopped badly with just 0.9% of the votes in favour. Ten’s understanding of democracy was hopeless as they censored the platform to two paragraphs and used the notorious “no vacancy rort” to make it statistically impossible to get elected.
This outrageous treatment certainly darkened the mood and Nick Falloon just sat back and copped it on all manner of fronts yesterday ranging from the shafting of retail investors, the lack of independent directors, the sluggish digital strategy and even the apparent dithering of programming director David Mott when it comes to long term planning and making decisions.
Neither Mott or CEO Grant Blackley spoke during the meeting but we had a good-natured exchange after the meeting which finished with Mott suggesting I might like to be a guest on The 7pm Project.
How would that be – bollock an entire board’s management team and land a prime time TV gig.