Each year, Crikey puts together a list of truly extraordinary business, political and legal performers. With markets continuing to rebound strongly, there has been no shortage of exceptional performers in the business world. Today is the second part (part one is here) of Crikey’s feature of the forgotten stars of 2010 …
Investment adviser of the Year (retrospectively awarded)
To former Treasurer Peter Costello, who noted that his decision to block Shell’s takeover over Woodside Petroleum in 2001 was the right one because “at that stage, resource assets were considerable undervalued because the market had not yet understood the demand for resources that be coming out of China … the Woodside price was trading around $14 compared with $43 today and, significantly, the Australian dollar was about half its current value which mean an overseas buyer would be buying at an incredible discount.”
Costello’s points were all correct — the only problem is, it is not the role of the Treasurer to determine whether assets are over or undervalued when assessing a foreign purchase, but rather, whether an acquisition is in the “best interests” of Australia.
Ironically, Costello had no such problems later that year when he happily approved of BHP’s merger (or what some described as a reverse-takeover) with the Anglo-African Billiton. That merger ended up costing BHP shareholders tens of billions of dollars after they traded their valuable BHP scrip (which owned iron ore, copper and coal mines) for Billiton’s collection of dud African aluminum smelters.
Marcel Marceau Award for Actions-Speaking-Louder-than-Words
To former bankrupt Craig Gore, who managed to avoid the ignominy of a second personal bankruptcy after reaching a deal with creditors (including Gore’s former wife) in which creditors received about one third of one cent in the dollar. The fact that creditors owed $495 million received about $3 million didn’t seem to bother Gore too much, who told reporters that “I am very proud to be a Gore.” Core, the son of former Queensland white-shoe brigade member Mike Gore (who himself fled overseas after his development business collapsed in the 1980s) also claimed “you will hear a lot of people who are very involved in the Gore family who would say that we’re honourable people. The rest is all bullsh-t.”
A few weeks after entering into the deal to pay creditors virtually nothing and staunchly defending his family’s good name, the right honourable Gore was spotted sunning himself on the Great Barrier Reef aboard a luxury yacht with a young mistress.
Prime Minister of the Year
A close fight between Kevin Rudd, who such a poor job selling his mining super profits tax that he managed to infuriate everyone from the miners paying the tax, to the community who would have presumably benefited from the tax, and his Brutus, Julia Gillard. In the end, it was La Julia who won out. Despite being a former partner at Australia’s most financially successful ambulance chasing law firm, La Julia, commenting on WikiLeaks, stated without any hesitation, that “the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website — it’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do, and an illegal thing to do.”
While Julia was quick to jump on the phone to Flight Centre and hastily arrange a one-way ticket for Australian WikiLeaks head Julian Assange from London to Guantanamo Bay, via Sweden, she forgot to check which laws Assange had actually broken. The helpful folk at the Australian Federal Police quietly told Julia a week later that sadly, Assange hadn’t broken any Australian laws. Andrew Wilkie, the Tasmanian MP who remains a key element in Gillard’s wafer-thin majority opined that the Prime Minister had shown contempt for the rule of law, trashed the principle of free speech and show contempt for Australia’s sovereignty by defaulting to the interests of the US ahead of an Australian citizen.
Career transformation of the Year
To “Angelina“, the one-time lady friend of Eliot Spitzer, the crusading New York Attorney-General turned Governor turned call-girl user. Angelina was an escort with the renowned Emperors Club who had repeated “meetings” with Spitzer while he was Governor (and was married to someone else). It wasn’t all kinky though, Angelina also reportedly “rehabilitated Eliot at the Waldorf Astoria, teaching him how to sit down and act like a civilised date”.
Earlier this year, after her relationship with Spitzer was exposed, Angelina undertook a career change to become of all things, a commodities trader with a large US investment bank. According to Alex Gibney, producer of Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Angelina had “a lot of very powerful clients and I guess they were able to teach her things about the way the market worked”.
After the onset of the GFC, and controversies surrounds banker bonuses, we are unsure of whether Angelina’s parents were more embarrassed to tell friends that their daughter was a high-priced hooker, or worked on Wall Street.
Bonus of the Year
Always a toughly fought category, but we couldn’t look past one of Crikey’s favourite scions Mark Rowsthorn of Asciano. Last year, poor old Mark agreed to voluntarily forgo $750,000 of his 2009 short-term bonus (fortunately Rowsthorn, the Asciano board was kind enough to increase his notional bonus to $1.5 million). This year, Rowsthorn received a $900,000 payment to re-sign as CEO and $1.99 million bonus for the year. The payments were especially generous given that Asciano’s share price remains about 85% lower than its 2007 peak and the company announced a near $1 billion loss for the year.
A close runner-up was the good folk at Crane Group, whose board felt it apt to pay CEO Greg Sedgwick $4.7 million during the year (including a cash bonus of more than $1.5 million) despite Crane’s profit falling by 35% during the year. Sedgwick’s remuneration is even loftier given he has presided over a shareholder return of negative (yes negative) 19% over the past three years.
*Adam Schwab is the author of Pigs at the Trough: Lessons from Australia’s Decade of Corporate Greed, available in bookshops and online at Booktopia .