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Attempts To Get ‘Joker’ Onto Harvey Norman Board A Big Publicity Stunt

Proxy adviser Ownership Matters has admitted that a cheap publicity stunt involving Harvey Norman and CEO Katie Page was never going to succeed.

What has not been explained is how a motion for the election of corporate governance crusader Stephen Mayne was ever going to get up especially as most experienced observers know that the shares in the big appliance, consumer electronics and furniture retailer are tightly with executive chairman Gerry Harvey holding 31% and 16.5% held by the family of co-founder Ian Norman.

Ownership Matters director Dean Paatsch told the Financial Review the recommendations were made to send a message to the company.

Others claim that the stunt to get Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page dumped exposed the “stupidity” of how Ownership Matters goes about seeking publicity.

The director they were recommending Stephen Mayne, is a journalist who is also a publicity junkie who has no retail expertise and only has $100 in shares in the big retailer, “he’s one big joke said a Harvey Norman franchisee”.

“It’s controlled company, it’s a recommendation safe in the knowledge there’s a snowflake’s chance in hell of [Stephen Mayne] being endorsed,” Mr Paatsch told The Australian Financial Review.

Harvey Norman executive chairman Gerry Harvey: He is furious proxy advisers support Stephen Mayne’s bid for a board seat.

“We were confronted with one choice and one choice only. As an organisation that’s long argued for an improvement in governance, changes to the way the accounts are presented and more transparency around property investments and the off-piste forays into mining camps, dairy farms and school locker programs, which have been value destructive for shareholders, Stephen is an ‘any port in a storm’ candidate,” he said.

“We think change is long overdue. It’s an issue of principle and I hope it provokes discussions about potential improvements.” he said.

According to the AFR the Australian Shareholders Association has joined Ownership Matters and another proxy advisory firm, CGI Glass Lewis, in advising shareholders to vote against the remuneration report this year, saying Harvey Norman’s executive pay policies do not meet guidelines despite recent changes aimed at addressing investor concerns.

The ASA has also recommended shareholders vote against the re-election of David Ackery, because he is a Harvey Norman executive, Kenneth Gunderson-Briggs, because he’s been on the board since 2003 and is no longer considered independent, and against recently appointed NED Maurice Craven, saying “his profile provides little indication as to his suitability as a director on the Harvey Norman board”.

ASA monitor Pamela Murray-Jones said Harvey Norman, which has about 15,000 retail shareholders, had refused to meet the association this year or respond to questions about executive bonuses, director shareholdings and suitability, board diversity, the rationale for the recent $174 million capital raising and the sustainability of dividend payouts.

Mr Mayne defended his qualifications for a board seat, saying he’d been on two local government councils, the board of an aged care organisation and on the ASA board twice, and dismissed suggestions his appointment would create dysfunction.

“The most important thing is being a contrary voice to Gerry,” he said.

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