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Harvey Norman Agitators Slammed By Big Share Investor

Argo Investments Australia’s second-biggest listed investment company with more than $6bn in share investments has taken a swipe at Harvey Norman critics.

Chief executive Jason Beddow said, “It’s like those people who buy a house next door to a noisy pub and then complain about the noisy pub next door,’’ he told The Australian.

“As a shareholder you need to be aware of these things going in and if you are not comfortable with that you shouldn’t be a buyer and own those shares.”

He was responding to what has been labelled a publicity stunt by Melbourne based Ownership Matters who earlier this week advocated the appointment of Stephen Mayne a journalist over Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page.

Yesterday Page broke her silence on the corporate governance concerns encircling the company, dismissing recent criticism of the retailer as “unsubstantiated conjecture” and declaring it complies with the law in Australia.

Ms Page, has “questioned the motives” of Harvey Norman’s critics and called for a regime where firms’ research is vetted by companies and regulators.

Mayne who is also a publicity junkie has no retail expertise and only owns $100 worth of shares in Harvey Norman.

Argo Investments who are no big fan of the flourishing proxy advisory industry, which has Harvey Norman in its sights and is trying to be a disruptor at next week’s Annual General Meeting.

“We don’t need a proxy adviser. At the end of the day their business is to find flaws so that people buy their research,’’ Mr Beddow said.

Argo is Harvey Norman’s 11th-biggest shareholder with a stake of about $20m Beddow told the Australian that he was broadly supportive of Harvey Norman’s directors, boardroom composition and its remuneration structure.

Argo claim that the influence of Harvey Norman chairman Gerry Harvey and ‘his somewhat idiosyncratic ways of investing, running the business and holding court with investors’ was not unusual for a company with a strong founder who was also a large shareholder.

“But it was the returns that count” said Beddow.

“If corporate governance is a big enough issue for you on how you invest, how you rate their (Harvey Norman’s) environmental, social and corporate governance and other things, well, you should really consider this before you buy shares,” he said.

“We engage, and if there are things, we are not happy about we vote against the company. We assess things ourselves. We would argue nothing has particularly changed really in terms of Harvey Norman’s governance structure; what has possibly changed is the shareholder activism and what has come out of the royal commission and things like that. People are much more sensitive on ESG.

Argo also took a stab at Ownership Matters claiming they wouldn’t buy Ownership Matters’ sensational report. “We don’t use proxy advisers,’’ Mr Beddow said.

“We don’t think they are particularly useful”.

“There have been times when Gerry has done things we didn’t like, like when he put a dairy farm into it (Harvey Norman) and we probably voted against them that year,” he said.

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