CSR's glass act still irks investors
WHEN the retiring Ian Blackburne chairs the CSR annual meeting for the final time today, he will leave the company in a very different position than when he started his eight-year reign.
WHEN the retiring Ian Blackburne chairs the CSR annual meeting for the final time today, he will leave the company in a very different position than when he started his eight-year reign.Now a pure-play building materials company, the CSR name remains but the iconic sugar business - with a proud 156-year history - is gone, sold to the Singaporean conglomerate Wilmar International a year ago.Dr Blackburne announced his retirement in May, and said the $1.75 billion sale of the sugar and renewable energy division, now called Sucrogen, was a milestone."With the sale of Sucrogen successfully completed and also having returned part of the sale proceeds to shareholders, I feel it is an appropriate time to retire from the board," he said at the time.Having served on the board since 1999, he was appointed chairman after the demerger of Rinker in 2003.His replacement is Jeremy Sutcliffe, who served briefly as interim chief executive last year, primarily to oversee the sale of Sucrogen.But shareholders may not hold sweet memories of another legacy of Dr Blackburne's reign - the 2007 acquisition of the Viridian glass business through two separate purchases, of Pilkington and DMS, for $865 million. The business suffered through the global financial crisis and has had its value written down by $651 million, including $121 million last year.Dr Blackburne has defended the decision to acquire Viridian and has said the business would return to profitability when the commercial construction market recovered."Viridian, in your mind, is a failure," he said at last year's meeting. "In my mind, it is an opportunity that is going to take a little bit longer to get there. Yes, we've done some things wrong [but] we've done our mea culpa on that."A representative of the Australian Shareholders Association, Stephen Matthews, was on the warpath yesterday, calling Viridian a "glass albatross" that would continue to restrict shareholder returns. "The problem was they bet the bank on it and lost," he said."It was too big an acquisition for them and I suspect their due diligence was not good."Mr Matthews said the Viridian write-downs had also reduced the amount of proceeds distributed to shareholders, given a large chunk of the $1.75 billion received for the sugar business had been used to repay debt.Of the proceeds, shareholders received $800 million in a special dividend. The rest was used to bolster the balance sheet, with the company holding more than $450 million in cash, ready to pounce on suitable bolt-on acquisitions.