“It is fitting at the end of a year marked by the disintegration of community trust in a range of public and private institutions that Australia’s biggest business story is about a high-profile company aggressively pursuing a young woman whose mistake was to have a consensual affair with a senior executive.”Boyd is absolutely right that far too much time, money and effort was put into seemingly covering up this exercise where the intent appeared to be to mitigate potential embarrassment for the CEO about his poor behaviour. Tony Boyd specifically blames the aggressive legal approach on Bruce McWilliam, the Prime Minister’s wealthy best mate, who has spent the past 13 years as Stokes’ main legal fixer at Channel Seven. In a strange governance set-up, McWilliam is a non-executive director of Seven West’s parent company Seven Group Holdings, but is merely an executive of Seven West, where he was paid about $1 million last year. He only owns 611,000 Seven West shares worth about $500,000 and can be fired with just three months’ notice. Kerry Stokes has churned through half a dozen Seven CEOs since 1995 -- Bob Campbell, Gary Rice, Julian Mounter, David Leckie, Don Voelte and Tim Worner -- so it would not surprise if he is onto No. 7 by the time Seven’s next AGM comes around in November 2017. From a governance point of view, it would be preferable if Seven West moved to a model where it had an independent chair, similar to what Scentre Group and Macquarie Group have done in recent years. [Beecher: the days of dirty secrets and blokey media culture are over] Kerry Stokes has chaired at least one ASX-listed Seven entity continuously for more than 20 years. He is now 76 and even since WA News bought the television and magazine assets for an excessive $4.1 billion in 2011, he has chaired the two Seven-related public companies involved. Both have performed poorly for investors in recent years. Stokes personally owns 73% of Seven Group Holdings, which certainly warrants him remaining as executive chairman of that company. Surprisingly, he has a 6-3 majority of independent directors on that board. However, Stokes’ personal ownership of Seven West Media is only 30% on a fully diluted basis given that Seven Group Holdings owns 41% of Seven West Media. Given that Frank Lowy has retired from the Scentre Group board in favour of an independent chairman, perhaps Stokes should follow suit and at least step back to allow an independent chair to provide new governance leadership for Seven West Media at this time. At the moment, the independent directors of Seven West have a 6-4 majority. Stokes could stay on the board with the independent chairman model as part of the reform program coming out of the Worner affair? Why not go with Jeff Kennett as the independent Seven West chair? He could then continue his 30-year rivalry with Peter Costello, who is chairman of Nine. When Costello took the top job at Nine, he quit his paid gig writing columns for News Corp’s tabloids. After the trouble caused by Kennett’s 60 Minutes ethics lecture in the Herald Sun, perhaps it is time for Kennett to do likewise.
Mayne: Seven West inquiry should have Stokes replaced as chairman
The independent inquiry is the right course of action and will provide a pathway for the board to recant their controversial support for Tim Worner.