Billabong waves in brand new era
By · 11 Dec 2013
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11 Dec 2013
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Billabong waves in brand new era

Billabong has promised investors it is ready to turn the corner with a new chief executive and transformation strategy.

"All of this positions Billabong International with a strong base for the future," said chairman Ted Kunkel of the plans put in place by CEO Launa Inman.

Oops, that was last year's AGM speech.

At this year's Gold Coast meeting, chairman Ian Pollard was setting the expectations bar a little lower on Billabong's latest CEO and transformation strategy.

"We can confidently say who our CEO will be for the forseeable future," Ian Pollard told shareholders - and correctly identifying Neil Fiske as the person in question.

Pollard - who is a Billabong veteran, having served on the board for a whole year now - did not divulge what he means by "forseeable future", but he did go out on a limb saying the new boy "has the absolute confidence of the board".

Just in case the confidence proves to be misplaced, he asked investors to allow more boardroom discretion when it comes to awarding termination benefits under its executive incentive plan.

"If shareholder approval is obtained, it will give the board the flexibility to vest unvested LTI awards and/or unvested deferred STI of senior executives who cease employment in certain 'good leaver' scenarios," the company said.

Fiske was saying all the right things to reporters after the meeting, which included talking up Billabong's "comeback potential" with the cool crowd.

"I'm convinced it will become cool again to that 18- to 15-year-old," says the former Boston Consulting Group partner who was awarded retailer of the year by Women's Wear Daily.

Board gets busy

With rebel shareholders from Coastal Capital seeking to purge Pollard and other board members at the meeting, the chairman was forced to defend his fellow directors' performance.

He refuted the suggestion that the board had been lazily presiding over the Billabong fiasco - a disaster of this scale takes lots of work apparently.

For the year to June 30, he reported that the board met on 57 occasions. It has met a further 45 times since July 1 this year.

Investors had a tough meeting too with 19 different resolutions to get through.

Baker's tax bill

The Christmas stocking may be a little threadbare this year for former tech entrepreneur Theo Baker.

The founder and former CEO of dotcom wannabe, Powerlan, has been ordered to pay the tax office $17,120,141.76 after losing a NSW Supreme Court battle over a tax dispute stretching from 1998 to 2009.

The tax office won the case by default after Baker failed to present evidence to support his defence which was filed in May.

The writing was on the wall in September, according to the judgment, which reported that solicitors acting for the tax office received a "Notice of Intention to File a Notice of Ceasing to Act" from Baker's legal reps from Dettmann Longworth Lawyers.

Dettmann refused to comment.

Reps at CL Asset Holdings, where Baker has been CEO, told CBD: "He's no longer with this company," and abruptly hung up.

Baker has seen tough times before, of course.

CBD remembers when the wheels were falling off his dotcom dreams back in 2002. By the time of its AGM, Powerlan had lost its chairman, its only other non-executive director, a chief financial officer, and around $142 million.

Shares were trading at 4¢ each and Baker knew exactly why.

"We don't have a sector of analysts in Australia who understand what our business does," Baker said.

They were not the only ones at fault. "History has suggested that some of our directors haven't provided good value," he added.

This included former NSW premier Neville Wran, who had let it be known that he "preferred not to be associated with a company that lost money", according to Baker.

Holden boss

The potential end of Australia's car industry is hardly a laughing matter but Holden chief Mike Devereux was doing his best to lighten the mood on Tuesday.

Appearing before the Productivity Commission in Melbourne, the automotive prime mover was challenged on the economic benefits the much-subsidised car industry is said to deliver to Australia.

Devereux reckons the multiplier effect of government subsidies is something like 18 times - although that's only for federal government money, with state grants excluded from the equation.

"They also don't include the multiplier effect of someone who has a hairdressing shop down the road from the plant - which I don't need," he helpfully explained.

Up in the air

Sydney's City Tattersalls Club will be striking out as the first of an unlikely list of developers this morning when it announces the preferred partner for its plans to whack an apartment block on top of its Pitt St building. Mirvac is the hot favourite, but Lend Lease and Brookfield are also contenders.

Other budding property shops, such as David Jones and retailer Harvey Norman, will be keeping a close eye on activities as they decide what to do with air rights above some of their shops.

"Because we've got such a lot of properties there are some things we can do to make them more profitable," Gerry Harvey told investors recently.

"There are a number of properties we can build residential towers on, that will probably happen."

CBD can't wait to hear the cross-selling planned as retail employees literally go for the "up-sell" from dishwasher to luxury apartment.

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