If you thought Australian listed company board rooms were getting younger and more diverse, think again. Never before have we seen so many old guys hanging around into their 70s and 80s as ASX200 chairs.
I’m not aware of too many 70-something cabinet ministers in any state or federal government in recent decades, but how’s this for a roll call of old white guys calling the shots in corporate Australia, while transitioning very slowly into retirement:
Frank Lowy, Scentre Group: the biggest owner of Australian property used to be chaired by 73-year-old Dick Warburton, but after this year’s restructure, Frank Lowy took over as non-executive chairman. He turns 84 next week.
Frank Lowy, Westfield Corporation: the international arm of the company continues to be chaired by its co-founder. He ceased being executive chairman three years ago.
Rupert Murdoch, News Corp: has been executive chairman even since Richard Searby was removed as non-executive chairman in 1991 at the age of 60. Rupert turned 83 in March.
Gerry Harvey, Harvey Norman: co-founded the business in 1982 and has been executive chairman for many years. Despite being 75, he is expected to seek another three-year term at the AGM in late November.
Kerry Stokes, Seven West Media: Peter Mansell was ousted as the independent chair of WA News in 2008. He was 61 at the time. Kerry Stokes took over the chairmanship, and he’s just turned 74.
Kerry Stokes, Seven Group Holdings: despite once hinting in a Fairfax interview that he might slow down after the Sydney Olympics, Kerry Stokes remains a fully engaged chairman and majority shareholder at 74.
John Prescott, Aurizon Holdings: after BHP racked up almost $10 billion of losses in the 1990s, many thought then-CEO John Prescott would struggle to eke out a second career as a professional director. Alas, the Queensland Labor Party took him on to lead QR National to market, and now he is presenting for another three-year term at the AGM in Perth on November 12, despite turning 74 next week.
Kevin McCann, Macquarie Group: after originally signalling his intention to retire in July after 18 years on the board, the former lawyer ran again and will turn 74 on Boxing Day, still chairman of the Millionaire Factory.
Roger Corbett, Fairfax Media: after 11 years on the board and five years as chairman, the former Woolworths CEO has nominated for another term at the AGM on November 6. He is currently 72.
Graham Kraehe, BlueScope Steel: was hand-picked by BHP to chair what was originally called the demerged BHP Steel in 2002. It was revealed yesterday that despite having served for 12 years and presided over huge value destruction, he’s seeking another three-year term at the AGM in Melbourne on November 13. According to Who’s Who, Kraehe turned 72 on September 2, but the notice of meeting claims he is only 71.
Max Moore-Wilton, Southern Cross Media and Sydney Airport: the two companies, which have long been chaired by 71-year-old Max Moore-Wilton, are yet to see any clear sign of a successor.
Peter Smedley, Arrium: first appointed chairman of the old Onesteel in 2000 but will have stayed 14 years until almost his 72nd birthday by the time he finally clears out after the November 17 AGM. Meanwhile, the company has spectacularly tanked trying to pull off a $754 million capital raising.
Even when the health of many of these old guys deteriorates, they still tend to stay as long as possible.
Cabcharge founder Reg Kermode announced plans to step down on April 29 this year as chairman, but remained as chief executive one day before he died at the age of 87. His colleague Phil Franet died more suddenly in August this year at the age of 69 after 29 years on the board.
Billionaire Ramsay Health Care founder Paul Ramsay was 78 when he suffered a heart attack in late April, and he was still chairman when he died on May 1 this year.
Similarly, Harvey Norman co-founder Ian Norman died on May 29 this year while still serving as a director at the age of 75 after 27 years.
Without wishing to be ageist or disrespectful, wouldn’t a combination of age and tenure limits assist with some long overdue renewal of Australian corporate boards and force a few people to slow down in their twilight years?
And wouldn’t a few more retirements of old guys clear the way for some younger women to break into the club?