The behaviour of James Packer and David Gyngell could have consequences for their respective public companies, one of the nation’s most powerful advisers to big investors has warned, while the Australian Shareholders’ Association said the incident would “play to the stereotype of wild west Australian businessmen’’.
Mr Packer’s Crown Resorts group did not issue any statement yesterday regarding the shock brawl between the two men on Sunday afternoon, while the chairman of the Gyngell-run Nine Entertainment Group, David Haslingden, said the CEO had the full support of the board.
A joint statement by Mr Packer and Mr Gyngell saying they remained friends was also issued by Nine following a meeting between the two men at Mr Packer’s Bondi apartment yesterday.
But Dean Paatsch, director of proxy advisory firm Ownership Matters, which advises the nation’s biggest companies and investors on governance matters, said there was “a sense of entitlement at play here’’.
“It was never a business decision to punch one of the nation’s biggest advertisers in the face. To do so shows an erratic type of behaviour that is not an ingredient in the success of a good listed business,’’ Mr Paatsch said. “If you can’t keep your private life in order, what hope do you have of running a successful public business? That goes equally for the both of them involved.’’
His comments were backed by Australian Shareholders’ Association spokesman Stephen Mayne, who questioned whether the brawl could have an impact on Mr Packer’s recently mooted move into the US casino market or Crown’s current operations in Macau and Australia.
“Passing probity to run casinos is a very tough integrity operation. The last thing a casino licensee should be doing is brawling in public,’’ he said.
He added: “This also damages Australia more generally. It will play to all the stereotypes of wild west Australian businessmen.’’
One Crown investor, who declined to be named, was less concerned, saying: “I don’t see it as anything material. But you wouldn’t want to see it escalate or for them to make a habit of it.’’
Advertising baron Harold Mitchell, a director of Mr Packer’s Crown and a friend of both men, said the incident “would pass as quickly as it came’’: “The world understands that these fellas are close mates. They had a disagreement, they fixed it and have moved on.’’
Mr Gyngell reportedly had a heated phone conversation with Mr Packer just moments before the billionaire’s car arrived at the scene where the brawl took place, reportedly saying he was “going to punch him”.
On Mr Gyngell’s behaviour, Mr Mitchell said: “The media industry has always had people and personalities that are larger than life. That is what makes it so great.’’
Another source close to the Crown board said the incident would have no impact on the business. Mr Packer now spends much of his time outside Australia and has attended recent Crown board meetings by phone. But another observer said this was “not unusual’’ given the billionaire’s travel schedule. The NSW Police are not investigating the incident.