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COMMENT: Why Gerry Harvey Has To Go

It’s time for Gerry Harvey, the Chairman and biggest shareholder, to walk away from the Harvey Norman retail group, in the best interest of shareholders and the management team that have to constantly hose down his stupid mistakes, time and time again.

His latest problem, which emerged in the NSW Supreme Court, has led to widespread condemnation of the billionaire retailer, after he chose to evict a terminally ill woman from the home of a former employee and friend of 50 years.

His lack of thinking could be attributed to the fact he is 82 years of age. Others say he is “a stupid old stubborn bastard” who believes his way is always the right way.

Remember the time when he walked into a store in a Channel Seven publicity stunt telling viewers his staff were hopeless, and that service was poor?

Or his bragging on 60 Minutes that COVID-19 was a great business opportunity?

Then there were his comments about holding onto millions of JobKeeper dollars because he paid enough in taxes. This backfired on him and Harvey Norman, whose management are over his antics.

One senior executive of the company said recently, “I’m close to retirement and I don’t really care. Gerry Harvey is a goose who is doing a lot of damage. I am paid a shitload of money to not have to worry, I will be out of here soon and some new management will have to handle the problems being created by him.”

The sentiment that Gerry Harvey is damaging the Harvey Norman retail operation is widespread, including with management who have spoken to ChannelNews.

Following a backlash, when he told the Australian Shareholders Association to “piss off” when they asked a legitimate question about a lack of independent directors at the big retailer, he complained, claiming, “Everyone thinks I’m this callous old bastard out making a profit on other people’s misery.”

For once, Harvey was completely right.

As for COVID, Harvey Norman doubled its profits to $462 million last year.

The Chairman owns more than 30 per cent of the company. He reaped more than $70 million in dividends last year, growing his personal wealth by 24 per cent.

But despite this, he is still prepared to kick a terminally ill pensioner out onto the street, serving her with an eviction notice for the home she shared with her late husband Garry Dent for more than eight years. He was a 50-year friend of Gerry Harvey, who also worked for him for 15 years.

Peggy Luker is now suing G Harvey Nominees — Gerry’s sole shareholder trust — after she was served an eviction notice for a property she lived in rent-free for nearly a decade.

Gerry Harvey at the 2020 Magic Millions barrier draw at Surfers Paradise Foreshore on the Gold Coast, Tuesday, January 7, 2020. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

The questionable retail Chairman even visited her home, uninvited, in June last year to suggest she relocate to commission housing, then issued her with the notice shortly after.

“Maybe you can get into a housing commission or something. Surely you have a Plan B?” Harvey told Ms Luker, according to his affidavit.

During the pandemic crisis, Harvey’s Company raked in an additional $22 million in JobKeeper wage subsidies that were intended to prevent struggling businesses from implementing layoffs. He was eventually humiliated into paying back the money his company-owned stores received.

Social media users have castigated the billionaire for his actions against pensioner Ms Luker.

A few weeks ago, retail unions organised protests at Harvey Norman stores, demanding a hike in the minimum wage.

Harvey Norman’s social media operators responded to this criticism by going on a Twitter blocking spree and censoring comments and posts on its Facebook page.

He cannot censor the comments on social media this time, with the billionaire being labelled “An Absolute Pig”, “A Git”, A Nasty Piece of Work” and “A Dirty Rotten DirtBag” by consumers.

As one writer says, “Tact and decency have never been virtues associated with Harvey.”

He is on record saying that donating to charities for the homeless is like, “helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason.”

In 2016, he suggested Australia’s political impasse could only be solved by installing a dictator.

His arrogant attitude has, in the past, rubbed off on current management.

When I first launched ChannelNews, we were told by several brands that Harvey Norman management were bullies who beat up brands and distributors wanting to do business with them.

No one working for a brand would talk, so we tracked down several executives who had worked for key CE and appliance brands and had left.

What they told us was stories of how Harvey Norman management made demands of brands and bullied executives.

Current Director John Slack Smith unleashed, telling me, “You won’t survive, we will make sure of that.”

Harvey Norman Director & COO John Slack Smith.

Twenty years later we are still here, and so are the same old Harvey Norman problems.

Harvey praises the competitive culture of his company, which rewards his salespeople with big bonuses.

“This culture may be good for Harvey’s bottom line, but its social consequences have been devastating,” says one observer.

Several years ago, the Company’s Alice Springs store was caught falsifying information in order to sign people up to store credit cards.

ASIC took action, identifying how Harvey Norman customers without a stable income, and often with a poor grasp of English, found themselves burdened with unaffordable debts.

In some cases, these debts were later deducted from their welfare payments.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigation forced the Company’s finance division to pay back around $1.5 million in fraudulently generated debts.

Jacobin Magazine, who profiled Gerry Harvey recently, say, “It is easy to get bogged down in the sheer awfulness of the persona of a man like Harvey.”

Many of his public remarks are so odious that any decent person cannot help but be disgusted.

Gerry Harvey paints himself as a Randian titan of industry, a benevolent Atlas holding up the world.

“I have helped many people make a lot more money and helped them into positions that they would never had [sic] got into had they not come across me,” he has boasted. “They might be earning $600,000 a year now and I think in 90 per cent of those cases they wouldn’t be earning anything like that if they hadn’t come into my territory.”

Harvey Norman has some excellent managers, however they are under the influence of Gerry Harvey and his Queen Bee and wife Katie Page, the CEO of the sprawling retail giant.

Both these two people need to quit, with a new independent management team put in place.

Many financial observers believe Harvey Norman is not saleable because of intertwined deals relating to property owned by Gerry Harvey and his wife, and the franchise model wrapped around the operation.

In the end, he controls the Company and the big question is what will happen when he drops dead? Maybe the Company will get a new lease of life and new management, or will it be more of Katie Page, who is influenced by Gerry Harvey and his terrible traits?