Home > Industry > Appointment & Jobs > Are Women Set To Give Harvey Norman Stores A Miss?

If the action of Chairman Gerry Harvey are anything to go by the big retailer is a boys club that he controls with women told to “piss off” for doing their job or insulted for asking a challenging question.

The culture of the big retailer was on full display yesterday at the Company’s Annual General Meeting.

Before telling senior Australian Fairfax journalist Sue Mitchell to “piss off” for asking a legitimate question Gerry Harvey was berating Pamela Murray-Jones from the Australian Shareholders Association because she asked Harvey’s son Michael “how he manages the conflicts of interest his position puts him in” especially when he has to deal with his father.

Harvey’s son has been on the board since 1993 and was up for re-election.

Michael Harvey responded by affirming independence. “That’s the rule in this family.”

After which his father added: “It might be different in your family, lady.”

She responded by reminding the board her name was Pamela and that she’d been corresponding with the company about ASA member concerns for some time.

Later, Harvey disparaged the ASA to The Australian as “nobodies” who “don’t represent anyone”.

Last year he said that people who questioned his actions and those of the predominantly male board that they should be ‘hung, stripped and flogged’ for questioning his authority and the actions of the Harvey Norman board.

As management in the Company have discovered, it doesn’t take much to set Gerry Harvey off and some say that CEO Katie Page is taking a leaf out of Gerry Harvey’s book when it comes to people who question her management methods.

After the AGM, veteran Financial Review journalist Sue Mitchell who is highly regarded by retailers and distributors, approached Harvey seeking to ask him about the first strike against the company, as well as the Companies latest results.

She’s known Harvey for two decades. Not that that engendered any decorum. He told her to piss off.

This morning the Financial Review said that such behaviour may explain why women are not flocking to Harvey Norman’s board. It has only one woman, being Gerry’s wife and Harvey Norman chief executive Katie Page.

Later in the day I was talking to a senior industry executive and Harvey Norman shareholder. They claimed that “The old fart” (Gerry Harvey) has seriously “lost the plot”. “He has an attitude to women and he challenges people who challenge his actions”.

“That may have been acceptable in the past but it’s not acceptable today and women will make him pay a heavy price” they said.

When Finance Director Chris Mentis was being questioned by the ASA, about why loans owed to directors from Harvey Norman were listed at $46 million on June 30, 2017 in the FY18 annual report, but only at $36 million on that same date in the FY17 annual report. Both audited, we should add Gerry Harvey stepped in.

He was halfway through explaining when Harvey called on Murray-Jones and former ASA rep Allan Goldin to “say something nice” instead.

“Go figure” he said  but they didn’t manage to get to the bottom of that issue.

It appears from yesterday’s AGM that one can also forget about independent directors as they get in the way according to Chairman Gerry Harvey especially as he believes they “don’t know what’s going on in the company at all”.

At yesterday’s AGM both he and his fellow directors got a big slap across the knuckles when Harvey Norman shareholders delivered a slap down to the retailer’s board and management by voting to reject its remuneration report.

50.6 per cent of votes were cast against the adoption of Harvey Norman’s remuneration report – marking a “first strike”, which, if repeated next year, will see investors vote on whether to spill the company’s board.

Gerry Harvey fired back at the “agitators” who he claims that shareholders ignored the fact that Harvey Norman was 55 per cent owned by the Harvey family and other company insiders.
He claims that an insider-heavy board was the best model for a public company.

“You’ll have a much better company in every case that I can think of,” he said.

When asked about independent directors not involved in the running of the big retailers he said “If it makes sense, of course I’ll look at it, but if it doesn’t make sense I’ll say ‘piss off, see you later’,” he said.

The ASA considers that none of Harvey Norman’s 12 directors are independent.

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