Controversial Cabcharge founder Reg Kermode died earlier this year, but the aggressive “take no prisoners” culture he built was on full display at yesterday’s lengthy AGM in Sydney.

The Cabcharge gathering was full of aggressive taxi industry operators who don’t mind speaking out. One of them interrupted the chairman during his formal remarks to request a minute’s silence for Kermode.

The Australian Shareholders’ Association’s Cabcharge monitor, Mary Curran, has complained about intimidation at the last two Cabcharge AGMs, so I was keen to experience it myself and therefore lobbed a nomination for the board.

It certainly got pretty hot in the kitchen.

A bloke in an Akubra called me “the n-word in the woodpile” after the AGM (he did not use the words “n-word”).

And Brent Kermode, the son of Reg, strode to the microphone and instructed the board to adopt a “no dickheads” policy. There was no risk of that happening, and young Kermode was gleeful and clapping when I scored support from just 2.25% of the voted shares.

Cabcharge was in the governance wars going into the meeting as they knew that director Rodney Gilmour had been defeated on the proxies, hence this terse one-paragraph resignation announcement at 7pm on Tuesday night.

Incredibly, chairman Russell Balding tried to hold the line saying throughout the meeting that Gilmour — who had held a senior position at Sydney Airport while Balding was CEO — had “resigned for personal reasons”.

The proxies should have been revealed both at the meeting and in these results lodged with the ASX, but they are set to remain an official Cabcharge secret. Well-placed sources claim that only one institutional shareholder supported Gilmour’s re-election, which would suggest the proxies were even more negative than the 57.5% vote against the remuneration report.

Surely the ASX should require companies which withdraw a resolution after proxy voting has closed to disclose the figures to the shareholders who went to the trouble of filling in the ballot.

The decision to launch a full-frontal AGM assault on Uber was no doubt influenced by the big shareholder protests. Better to create a distraction than have to explain the seventh straight year of material votes against the remuneration report.

That said, I’ve never seen a chairman unload on a competitor to the extent that Balding flogged Uber yesterday.

Given past ASX reluctance to publish major sprays such as executive chairman of Roy Morgan Research Gary Morgan’s hit on the resource super profits tax in 2010, it was a little surprising Balding’s full tirade was lodged uncensored on the company announcements platform.

Former James Hardie and News Corp spindoctor Greg Baxter was at the AGM and, given his combative history, it wouldn’t surprise if he crafted the chairman’s Uber attack.

Two representatives from the largest Cabcharge shareholder, Aberdeen Asset Management, sat through the entire AGM at The Intercontinental. They control 14.2% of the company and, having seen off one director and observed the board’s belligerence in all its glory yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised if they called an EGM to remove more directors in 2015.

The most obvious target is Kermode loyalist Neill Ford, who stood up to present the remuneration report yesterday as chair of the corporate governance committee. This is a taxi industry operator who has had almost $8 million worth of related-party transactions with Cabcharge over the past two years, as is disclosed on page 51 of the annual report.

I got stick at the meeting for not owning many Cabcharge shares, but very much enjoyed demanding to know why Ford owned no shares at all after serving as a director since 1996.

The response was bizarre as he claimed to have previously been criticised for owning too many shares, so he and his wife sold their entire holding. Now, with the boot on the other foot, he might just think about buying back in. Fancy that!

Asked if he would retire at the end of his current three-year term, the 69-year-old Ford gave every indication that he would stick around for many more years.

I’ll eat my hat if he’s there after next year’s AGM, but until he and Donn McMichael are gone, the Kermode culture will remain alive and well inside the Cabcharge boardroom.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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