Well, that explains it. While using an independent board review as cover, the CPA board, or what is left of it, has just allowed Alex Malley to complete one of corporate Australia’s most audaciously planned heists. Forget George Clooney and Ocean’s Eleven — Malley went one better and is walking away after being “sacked” from his role as CEO of the CPA with a payout of $4.9 million.
In a brief, one-page statement, the new CPA president, 79-year-old Jim Dickson, stated: “In the interests of full disclosure, CPA Australia has made a payment of $4.9 million in accordance with our obligations”.
Crikey chronicled the rise and rise of Malley based on the outstanding work of The Australian Financial Review’s Joe Aston. In case you missed it, Malley was an accounting lecturer at Macquarie University before departing after being accused of encouraging students to purchase modules from a company owned by his wife to get bonus marks. Malley then engineered what a appeared to be a silent board coup at the CPA. After becoming appointed president, and having the remuneration of the presidency increased, Malley was then appointed as CEO of the CPA a few years later. It is understood that the role was never advertised.
Malley was replaced as president by an old Macquarie colleague, Richard Petty (Petty remains on the CPA board to this day). The president sets the remuneration of the CEO. Malley’s salary skyrocketed to $1.79 million last year (of which around $1.3 million was base pay).
Malley doesn’t run an ASX-listed company in a super competitive sector. Rather, he is CEO an accountancy organisation, which has a mere 460 employees and only $160 million in subscription fees. Under his watch, the CPA is looking set to lose government insurance as well as having burned more than $10 million on a dud financial advice start-up.
While collecting his salary, Malley was also using CPA member funds to promote his TV show on Channel Nine (the production of which was paid for by CPA members), as well as his book, The Naked CEO (in which Malley lectured others on how to run a business). The CPA allegedly spent $170,000 on billboards each month to promote Malley’s book, including one in New York’s Times Square, according to the AFR’s Joe Aston.
The CPA board has now agreed to pay Malley $4.9 million, which is around three times his base salary. If the CPA were an ASX-listed business, such a payment would breach the Corporations Act, which provides that shareholder approval is required where a termination payment exceeds one year’s salary.
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Just to remind readers, the CPA is not a wildly successful business story like say Flight Centre or Seek.com. Rather, it is a member-driven organisation that is supposed to provide education, training, technical support and advocacy on behalf of members. It is my opinion the CPA should never have appointed Malley in the first place given his lack of corporate experience, and it is my opinion it should never have paid him more than $400,000 given the small scale of its operations. The decision to allow him to use member monies to fund a TV show and book are also questionable, as is the decision to pay Malley $4.9 million to go away. Bear in mind, seven of the CPA’s 12 board members have quit in the last month, so all that remains appear to be Malley loyalists.
I believe the federal government needs to step in with an urgent independent inquiry into the CPA, while all payments to Malley should be immediately frozen. Malley will be able to survive for a little while without the $4.9 million; he has allegedly amassed a property portfolio worth more than $11 million.
*Adam Schwab was previously a corporate lawyer at Freehills and is the author of Pigs at the Trough: Lessons from Australia’s Decade of Corporate Greed