Nice money – but they have to earn it

Illustration: Michael Mucci.

THERE have been many strikes along the way, such as at Lend Lease, which suffered a rebuke at the hands of its shareholders this week, but the Directors’ Club has heard the message. And it has acted.

The message is that executives don’t own the company; they are the managers. Directors don’t own the company; they are the stewards. It is the shareholders who own the company.

And so it is that executive bonuses are down to their lowest levels since 2003, and in nominal dollars to boot. The ”two strikes” regime is working. It has personalised the issue of pay. Boards don’t like the embarrassment of having their remuneration report rejected.

It could be said that shame only works for those who can feel it – and it remains perplexing that people can be paid $10 million a year to manage, for instance, a bank which can’t go broke as it is backed by the government – but the abuses are in decline.

As it now winds into Christmas, this season of shareholder meetings has been the most benign in years. The rise of the proxy advisers has much to do with it, a tiny bunch who, despite the protestations of the director lobby, hardly need to be regulated.

And so to a few of the highlights: there was the QR National crew once again changing the ”REM” (remuneration) goalposts like seasoned greenkeepers at ”The G”.

There was Macmahon which paid bonuses on the back of an assured profit – an assured profit which evaporated six weeks later when it was ”discovered” that a railway project for Gina Rinehart might be running $40 million over budget (a 28.5 per cent strike against).

Seven West Media had a proposal to lift its non-executive directors’ pay defeated but it was withdrawn from the resolutions after Kerry Stokes agreed to a pay cut. There was still a strike on the REM report.

Then there were the many near misses such as the perennial preposterous pay profligates from UGL, and a roughly 20 per cent vote against the REM report at Fortescue.

There was M2, which even paid bonuses to non-executive directors, extremely nice work if you can get it. And the 86-year-old Cabcharge chief Reg Kermode showed he didn’t get out of bed for less than $2 million, whatever the conditions outside.

In anticipation of a second strike, Linc Energy brazenly scheduled an EGM straight after its AGM, knowing that Peter Bond’s stake would see them cruise home anyway.

There were still some thrills and spills but on the whole this was an executive pay season quite subdued and in step with the times.

McIvor should not be mistaken for MacGyver. The former is a Gold Coast property figure and the latter a 1980s television hero.

Mind you, there are some uncanny similarities. MacGyver was a resourceful type who could seemingly make anything out of a few household items.

McIvor, too, is also a resourceful type who made a $200 million mortgage fund (EquitiTrust) with little more than a lawyer, an accountant and a bunch of debt.

MacGyver could blow up a terrorist camp with just a small tube of nasal spray, a turkey baster and a shoelace.

McIvor would think MacGyver a chump for relying on so many props. McIvor blew up EquitiTrust and the savings of a thousand pensioners with nary a pair of tweezers and a roll of duct tape.

Now, armed with a mere Information Memorandum and a lot of charm, McIvor is raising money again. This time, it seems he is launching an assault on the realm of litigation funding in order to recover money from none other than EquitiTrust.

That’s correct, the word is he may be asking other people for money so he can wrest back control of the thing he already blew up. That is flair.

Our latter-day action hero has even trumped his phonetic namesake by self-publishing his own book, Strange Animals Come down to Drink – A Requiem of a Financier and a Stinging Indictment of Corporate Corruption.

In vivid prose McIvor debunks the vile claims of his assailants that EquitiTrust’s leverage and reckless lending to the likes of the twice-bankrupt Gold Coast ex-plumber known as King Con were to blame for the demise of his fund.

It was in fact corrupt bankers, venal journalists, and a cast of corporate skullduggerers conspiring against him. They veritably wrecked his plans to raise new equity and float the thing on the sharemarket.

The book doesn’t spell it out but there is only one agency which could have pulled off a job so dashing as this – the very special ops team which brought us the floats of RAMS and Multiplex just before they erupted in flames – and that, of course, is UBS.

Finally we must attend to an urgent matter of housekeeping. Readers may have noticed that the $10 billion electricity sector pulled its defamation lawsuit against the farmer Bruce Robertson this week.

Sadly, this will mean that Ashurst, the solicitors in the matter, may not be paid. They had demanded that Robertson pay their bills but that seems unlikely now.

And so it is that we announce a charitable initiative today, ladies and gentlemen. It is the Ashurst Fighting Fund. Please donate generously to keep the wolves from the doors of 225 Grosvenor Place. Every cent counts.

Hope Downs Marketing Company Pty Ltd. has dropped off the Top 40 list today. For more information click here.

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