THE DISTILLERY: So long, Seven West

Scribes say Don Voelte was the right 'tough guy' to knock Seven West into shape, but after his departure from the helm there'll still be more to do.

Seven West Media chief executive Don Voelte’s brief time at the top of the media company, which was always destined to be short, has come to an end. The executive was there to cut and run, leaving the incoming Tim Worner, a more seasoned media professional than the Nebraskan oil and gas man, to craft Seven West’s future rather than slash into its costs.

Indeed, as Fairfax’s Elizabeth Knight explains, Voelte was to Seven West billionaire Kerry Stokes as Al ‘Chainsaw’ Dunlap was to the late media billionaire Kerry Packer.

“Voelte was the tough guy cost-cutter put into Seven West to inject financial discipline. There is still plenty to do at Australia's best-performing network to recalibrate the business, so either Voelte got impatient or Stokes thought he had done enough to be able to hand on the rest of the execution of Seven West's new strategy to long-time executive Tim Worner. Seven West Media is on track to take out $100 million in costs. But there will need to be more over time as the broader industry continues to face the pressures of negative cyclical and structural forces. Seven is the best house but in a lousy street. (And Nine Entertainment is working very hard at renovating its program and financial performance.)”

Business Spectator’s Stephen Bartholomeusz precisely recalls the context within which Voelte was appointed. And remember, it was always only going to be a short-term stint in the chief’s seat.

“Voelte’s appointment last year came in the midst of difficult and deteriorating advertising conditions and as a reinvigorated Nine Entertainment began to regain its mojo and its ratings to provide Seven West with a sterner challenge. Stokes may have felt at that time he needed a very experienced and hard-edged chief executive to knock the basics of the business into shape even if his choice had limited media experience. Voelte will remain close by, resuming his position as a non-executive director and also taking on the deputy chairman’s role. With veteran media executive John Alexander (who had senior executive experiences at Fairfax and in the Packer family media interests before they were sold) joining the board earlier this month, Voelte, former News Ltd executive Doug Flynn and Stokes himself, there is considerable media experience around the board table for Worner to call on.”

The Australian’s Darren Davidson explains how there were some clues from Seven West recently that Worner was going to take the reins from Voelte.

“When the major US studios displayed their wares last week, Ten Network's new chief Hamish McLennan, and chairman Lachlan Murdoch, both flew to the US. So did Nine Entertainment chief David Gyngell. But Worner stayed behind, and in his place the company sent Seven West Media sales head Kurt Burnette. Worner was offered the job last week while Mr Burnette was in New York…Last month, Seven West executive Ryan Stokes accompanied Worner on a US jaunt to meet new Yahoo chief executive and president Marissa Ann Mayer to familiarise himself with Seven West's digital media business and its colourful new leader. At Seven West's investor day two weeks ago, the presentations made by a succession of Seven executives felt like auditions for Voelte's role at times, and Voelte himself appeared emotional when reflecting on his short tenure in the job.”

Elsewhere, the bull market run has done little to actually encourage Australians into equities, when you take a step back. The Australian’s Criterion columnist Tim Boreham shows us how Australian shareholder ownership is at its lowest levels – 38 per cent – in a long time.

“In global terms 38 per cent is still a high proportion, but compares with 46 per cent in 2006 (just before the global financial crisis) and 52 per cent in 2000, when the tech boom was in flight and we realised our IT systems weren't about to be blown away by the Millennium Bug. Tellingly, indirect share ownership has fallen from 30 per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent in 2012 and this has something – or everything – to do with intermediaries charging a poultice for losing investors' funds.”

And Fairfax’s Malcolm Maiden points out the regrettable timing of introduction of trading Australian government bonds on the Australian Securities Exchange just as the bull market is coming to an end.

“Tuesday's launch of trading on the ASX of ‘depositary interest’ securities of $100 each that deliver beneficial ownership of medium to long-term Australian government bonds is more important than the first day's trading value of just $319,000 suggests. Talk of launching retail government bond trading revved up during the financial crisis as the government issued more debt to fund stimulus, slowed when it became clear that wholesale demand for Australian bonds would be more than enough to soak up the expanded supply, and dragged on as the architecture of the trading system was debated. Better late than never.”

Back to company news, The Australian’s Bryan Frith says it’s easy to see the bankers' fingerprints from Discovery Metals over news that it’s conducting a sales process, with its capital raising plans now a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, The Australian Financial Review’s Matthew Stevens waves goodbye to Discovery Metals chairman Gordon Galt, who has now “wandered off to deal with some other of his list of commercial heartaches”.

The Australian’s John Durie says the market should prepare for another campaign from the investment banks encouraging big corporates into raising capital. The spark for this thought is Stockland’s issue.

Elsewhere, The Australian Financial Review’s Jennifer Hewett says the Coalition isn’t in fact planning a big clean-out of the major public services positions – for instance, the head of Treasury. But she adds that explanations as to why the department got the federal government revenue forecasts so wrong will still need to be heard. The Herald Sun’s Terry McCrann is of a similar mind.

The Australian Financial Review’s economics editor Alan Mitchell is also mentioning Parkinson this morning, in reference to the difficulties that incoming prime minister Tony Abbott will find when he takes the top job.

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