Cabcharge CEO Andrew Skelton

When Lachlan or James Murdoch gets up at a future News Corp or 21st Century Fox AGM and attacks the board while defending their late father, you will know that regime change inside Rupert Murdoch’s media empire will have been completed.

And so it was at Cabcharge yesterday when Brent Kermode, son of former long-serving executive chairman Reg Kermode, gave the new CEO Andrew Skelton a solid spray for daring to criticise his dad’s management practices and retrenching a few long-serving loyalists to the Kermode family.

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Cabcharge governance has come a long way since 87-year-old Reg died in office last year, still pocketing his annual $2 million all-cash salary right until the very end.

Kermode’s feisty chief loyalist on the board, Neill Ford, finally departed as deputy chairman yesterday, meaning that institutions such as Lazard and Aberdeen Asset Management have now installed a majority of genuinely independent directors.

At last year’s Cabcharge AGM, shareholders observed a minute’s silence for Reg, a glossy tribute was distributed, Brent Kermode defended the company from external critics and then joined the board for lunch afterwards, as shareholders weren’t even offered a sandwich.

The tables were completely turned yesterday as Brent Kermode made the following comments responding to the CEO’s impressive address, which outlined a raft of changes from the Kermode era. Brent Kermode said:

“At this old, outdated Cabcharge, management and staff worked hard. There was loyalty and dignity in the workplace. The now-management has been hard at work terminating and making redundant dedicated, hardworking staff, sometimes for decades.”

“How can the now CEO, with the shares bottoming out to 2000 levels, justify retaining his position in the company with his new management strategy? Belittling past management, which included my father, when under his captaincy of Cabcharge is heading for the same fate as the Titanic.”

Yesterday Cabcharge’s share price bounced 6%.

Cabcharge’s improved corporate governance hasn’t yet extended to webcasting its AGM or even making an audio file or full transcript available to shareholders who weren’t able to make the meeting.

Chairman Russell Balding, a former managing director of the ABC, needs to get with the communications program. Last year, he denied Rodney Gilmour was overwhelmingly defeated on the proxy votes, but instead insisted that he had resigned the day before the AGM for “personal reasons”.

Balding has been a reluctant reformer, as is clear if you read the overly glowing send-off he gave Neill Ford in his chairman’s address yesterday.

And if Ford really did finally leave the board at the conclusion of yesterday’s AGM, why has there still been no formal ASX announcement to confirm this?

Ford’s record as chairman of the corporate governance committee is best summarised by looking at this long list of annual protest votes against non-independent directors and the remuneration report dating back to 2008.

No other ASX 200 company has been this unpopular with its shareholders, which is not surprising given the share price dive since the peak of almost $14 in 2007.

Despite the three big proxy advisers and the Australian Shareholders’ Association recommending support for all resolutions yesterday, either Lazard or Aberdeen must have voted against both the remuneration group and the incentive grant to the CEO yesterday given the 18% protest vote.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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