|Wesfarmers AGM Shareholder Registration Point|
There were hundreds of people in attendance and I have to say that apart from two teenagers and a couple of youngsters who appeared to be there for work I was the youngest there. Mum and dad investors? Hardly. These were grandma and grandpa investors. The majority of the shareholders were pensioners.
There was a brief DVD with former Wesfarmers chairmen speaking about the company. Michael Chaney, one of Australia's most respected businessmen, said "If you're not innovative, you're going backwards."
Dr Richard Walley OAM performed the Welcome to Country from the Noongyar people in Noongyar and English and performed on the didgeridoo.
No cameras or other recording equipment were allowed inside and I even had to check my backpack. Nevermind. Wandered down the front so I could sit in front of the big boys and found that the front three rows had been reserved. Turned out that's where the directors and former board members were seated. That's about as close as I got to rubbing shoulders with them. And the powerfully dressed women with their striking jewellery, face paint and facial features were a bit intimidating.
Chairman Bob Every gave an address before handing over to managing director and CEO Richard Goyder. He provided a very business-like report from each business sector of this multi-faceted conglomerate. Much like the annual report reads so there wasn't anything stark. He did mention that Wesfarmers values were of integrity, openness, accountability and boldness. Good base to work from, methinks.
The second item of business for the AGM was the re-election and election of directors. Some interesting questions from the floor were fielded.
- What is the Gowrie Scholarship Trust Fund? This was directed to James Graham as it was a current or recent directorship and office that he held.
- Does Tony Howarth have the capacity to fulfil his duties as a director as he has a total of five directorships (chair counts as two) and that was the maximum that the Australian Shareholders' Association recommends? Chairman Every stated that Tony attends all of the meetings, does all of his homework and that he certainly has the capacity to fulfil his duties as a Wesfarmers director.
- Then this doddery old guy gets up. He introduced himself as Mr Hardwick and he'd come all the way from Armidale in NSW for the meeting. He was an emeritus chartered accountant and looked a bit like a mad professor. He started off by stating that "I'm not against women on boards but what would Vanessa Wallace bring to the board, would she be able to stand up to the male chauvinists (and there are a lot of male chauvinists in Western Australia) or was this just tokenism towards woman?" Well, this guy got a good reception from the audience who were obviously initially worried about where the question was leading. Chairman Every responded that women made up 50% of the population and should be more representative on boards and he informed Mr Hardwick that Vanessa Wallace was certainly capable of handling the male chauvinists as he had known her for a long time. [This made the papers although I would have described it as a warranted and expected defence rather than a spirited defence - journalists, eh?]
- A question regarding the illegal importation of phosphate from Western Sahara by CSBP was posed for the Ethics Committee. Chairman Every took this on, without any notes, and stated that the Australian government had not advised of any restriction in dealings of this nature therefore the practice was not illegal. I was surprised that he had the matter in hand.
In general business there were further questions relating to;
- renewable energy
- a farmer not being paid in a timely manner for his milk (not Wesfarmers' doing as it turned out)
- safety in retail versus resources sectors
- had Wesfarmers paid too much for Coles and would there be further payments/dilution of shares
- would Wesfarmers open a foodworks to distribute unsold food
- why was Coles stopping the selling of hormone growth promotant (HGP) cattle and what was the benefit to Coles in this.
It was great to see the manner in which management addressed the issues and there was little fobbing off or "I'll get back to you." They were well organised.
Finally, Mr Hardwick got up to talk again. And he had every one's interest. He started off by saying, as we knew, that he had come all the way from Armidale. He'd attended meetings in Australia, England, the US and somewhere else (I forget that particular detail) and he congratulated Wesfarmers for having the directors front up and answer questions. Then he stated how good his local Bunnings store was and his hope that it would run the competition out of town. He summed up with the fact that Coles had improved out of sight, which he hadn't expected, but the problem with his local shop was that they had trouble obtaining the right staff as young people weren't interested in working. He did receive some warm applause.
At the conclusion of the AGM we went out to the foyer for drinks and nibbles. Let me tell you - old people come alive with free wine/beer and food. The place was buzzing.
I managed to collar Alan Carpenter, Executive General Manager, Corporate Affairs, to ask him a question. He also happens to be the former 28th Western Australia premier. What a great country this is to be able to approach a man of his (former) standing. Anyway, the managing director and CEO cut me off before I had time to finish my question as they both had a press/media conference to attend. I did get his business card though so it was the highlight of my afternoon.
Picked up my free Coles apron, which I shall wear with pride, on the way out. Quite an interesting day.