Chairman a mine of information

Chairman a mine of information

At 70, veteran Leighton director Bob Humphris probably stopped harbouring ambitions of ever chairing the board of the $6 billion contractor.

But the departure of David Mortimer last year, and the abrupt resignation of Stephen Johns and fellow independent directors Wayne Osborn and Ian Macfarlane in March meant it all but fell in his lap. From what used to be a 12-member board, good old Bob was just one of two independent directors remaining who could be considered for the top job.

By his own account, he has come a long way from working down in the mines himself as a young man, shovelling coal onto a conveyor belt.

"[I was] usually stripped to the waist because it was so hot," he told shareholders while chairing the company's annual meeting on Monday.

He also regaled shareholders with tales of off-the-beaten-track jaunts (usually alongside old mate Wal King) to cross-city tunnels in Kashmir, offshore barges in Tanzania and coalmines in Mongolia.

But he gave rather shorter shrift when quizzed over the group's majority shareholder, German group Hochtief. He said Leighton did not usually report on its shareholders, referring investors to Hochtief's website if they wanted more information.

Of course, Hochtief is a rather touchy topic these days, and Bob himself was at one stage united with the other directors in the open revolt led by Johns against what they said was an increasingly undue interference by the Spanish-controlled Hochtief on Leighton's independent governance of its board.

While meddling with board affairs might be unwelcome, at least Bob approves of Hochtief's online presence.

"It's a very good website; I commend it," he said.

Stubborn streaks

Hochtief chief executive Marcelino Fernandez Verdes, a long-time executive at its parent ACS, was also formally elected to Leighton's board on Monday.

ACS has been hands-on at Leighton since the Spanish group's heavily geared move to buy control of Hochtief in 2011.

"I can work with Marcelino," Humphris told reporters. "We are similar ... we are both stubborn."

Rockers rolled

No more rock'n'roll for publisher Rupert Murdoch, who has told staff putting together triple j magazine to clear the backstage passes from their desks by May 31.

The riff-laden mag, produced under licence from the ABC, was already in a bit of strife, reducing its publication frequency from monthly to every two months in August. But its execution seems more the result of consolidation within Rupert's News Ltd, with a number of titles canned as a result of the closure of the Melbourne office of News Custom Publishing.

News spinner Sharyn Whitten said about 15 people were to be made redundant and operations moved to Sydney. That's where NewsLifeMedia, formerly News Magazines, is based. It got its new moniker in 2011 as part of a restructure that "transformed the way we do business both vertically for deeper connections, and through the portfolio horizontally for scale and reach".

"We hope to redeploy a number of those affected, but the unfortunate reality is that there won't be roles for everyone," Whitten said.

In an email, triple j magazine editor Jaymz Clements praised his contributors. "You've all made this flame-haired goofball of an editor incredibly proud and thankful he got to work with such a talented group," Jaymz with a Z said.

"With all that said ... make sure you're up to date with all of your invoices. Get 'em in while I'm still around to make sure they get paaaaaaaid, son."

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