Coates wows 'em in Big W's hot couture

It has become a battle of the cheapest dressed. Nine months since the head of the Wesfarmers-owned Kmart discount chain, Guy Russo, threw the gauntlet at an investor day when he declared that he was "wearing a pair of shoes and socks, some undies and a pair of jeans and a nice top [all] for $19", the head of the Woolworths-owned discount chain Big W has hit back.

It has become a battle of the cheapest dressed. Nine months since the head of the Wesfarmers-owned Kmart discount chain, Guy Russo, threw the gauntlet at an investor day when he declared that he was "wearing a pair of shoes and socks, some undies and a pair of jeans and a nice top [all] for $19", the head of the Woolworths-owned discount chain Big W has hit back.

Big W director Julie Coates upped the ante yesterday when she revealed that she too was dressed in some cheaply acquired yet still fashionable apparel.

"I am dressed top-to-toe in Emerson today," said Coates as she outlined the discount chain's newest fashion label and "get it for less" campaign.

Pointing to a Big W catalogue featuring the Emerson brand, Coates said: "What you will see there, for those of you who aren't acquainted with the latest trends, is coloured denim. Coloured denim jeans at $18.86 and teamed with a $5 ribbed tee. What is important to our customers right now is to win on value every day."

PROF CREATES STIR

It was a clash that left many top lawyers, corporate advisors, directors and institutional investors in a quandary.

Whether to turn up to Rio Tinto's round table, featuring chairman Jan du Plessis, at the Establishment, or head to a room down the corridor to hear the eminent Professor Giffen deliver his views on the stringent new corporate governance rules about to introduced into Europe and the United States.

We don't know what du Plessis had to say. But the good professor, a Scot on his first first visit Down Under, opened proceedings at the lunch organised by Global Proxy Solicitation with a quip about the turmoil engulfing financial markets.

"There's not a great deal of distance between a pat on the back and kick up the arse," he quipped, in an obvious attempt to soften up the audience.

As an advisor to the EU corporate governance framework, however, he quickly began to infuriate those assembled with his strident views on compulsory shareholder voting, particularly on remuneration, and with his endless jibes at the competence of those in the room.

"The difference between the speed of light and sound becomes painfully obvious when you meet an investment banker. They look good but as soon as they open their mouths ... ".

As several high-profile business hacks began furiously jotting his attacks, the mood turned ugly, with observations such as: "Anything a company director says needs to be taken with a grain of salt ... and a slice of lemon and a shot of tequila."

During question time, one lawyer returned fire, arguing that many executives were being treated as "sacrificial goats" by shareholders.

"That's very insulting to goats," Professor Giffen retorted in his broadest brogue.

It was all hornswoggle. The professor was Chris De Havilland, a professional impersonator and hoax speaker. The scribes quickly shelved the notebooks. The advisors looked relieved. And everyone left with a smile.

VIC'S HOOGMANAY

The pouring rain was not enough to drive away guests on Wednesday night for what was the final farewell performance in the Johnny Farnham-inspired farewell tour of Dexus Property chief Victor Hoog Antink (aka Whispering Victor).

Given his longevity in the market, Victor amassed a room full of corporate bigwigs, property heavy hitters and fellow "Dexonians".

Filling up the top floor of Victor's "baby", 1 Bligh Street, for what is likely to be the last function before new tenants roll in, were mates from his Westfield days, including Steven Lowy, David Gonski, Stephen Johns and Peter Allen. Among the fee collectors were Macquarie Bank's Nick Moore, Nomura's Peter Meurer and Citi's Simon Ranson and UBS's Tim Church. Loitering nearby was Victor's replacement, Darren Steinberg.

Other attendees included the former UBSer and ex-head of Valad (aka Invalid) Clem Salwin, ex-UBSer and Fort Street adviser Richard Hunt and former Commbanker Geoff McWilliam.

Representing the agents that all helped Dexus with many deals, was CBRE's Tom Southern and Rick Butler and Jones Lang LaSalle's Stephen Conry.

Dexus chairman Chris Beare gave the retirement speech, saying Victor had pushed hard to get 1 Bligh Street built and it was only fitting to hold his retirement party in the partly vacant building.

Got a tip? srochfort@fairfax.com.au

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