Money Editor for NZ Herald

Brierley survives by a whisker

Sir Ron Brierley was narrowly re-elected as a director at the Guinness Peat Group annual general meeting. Photo / Natalie Slade
Sir Ron Brierley was narrowly re-elected as a director at the Guinness Peat Group annual general meeting. Photo / Natalie Slade

Sir Ron Brierley has hung on to his board seat at Guinness Peat Group by the skin of his teeth, but not without facing strong criticism from shareholders.

The one-time corporate raider was yesterday up for re-election at the company's annual general meeting and was re-elected by just 50.75 per cent to 49.25 per cent.

Sir Ron said he was pleased to retain his board seat.

"I know it was close," he said.

"I have been involved in the corporate world for more than 50 years and a genuine close vote is very rare."

The 74-year-old, who owns 50 million GPG shares, said the large number of shareholders who voted against him had not affected his appetite to continue on the board.

"I'm doing the right thing by the company. Of course I want to carry on."

The narrow win was not happy news for Shareholders Association chairman John Hawkins who spoke out strongly against Brierley during the meeting.

Hawkins said it was disappointing that shareholders had not made a clean break from the past.

"But that is democracy in action and I respect that," he said.

Brierley took the opportunity during his re-election speech to recount some of the glory days of GPG at the beginning.

He also said New Zealand shareholders who had got in during its New Zealand share float had done well.

He said the number of bonus shares issued had resulted in their getting 4600 shares free and a pay-out of 86c a share in dividends since the New Zealand float.

"In my view there are not many companies that have done better than that."

Brierley said he understood some shareholders had since bought in at a higher price but that was a condition of the market and it was their problem if they had paid too much.

"From my point of view I believe we have delivered in full."

Brierley said there had been some initial tensions when the board was revamped but since then things had settled down.

But shareholders shot him down over the share price. Shareholder Gordon Wallace said a lot of investors had bought more shares on their faith in Brierley.

Hawkins said GPG had underperformed the market and when the times had got tough Brierley had "run out of ideas".

"You appeared to have lost the plot on strategic direction," he said.

Hawkins also criticised Brierley for the company's lack of transparency over its pension liabilities, Brierley's lack of respect for investors after he walked out of last year's AGM and his attendance of board meetings.

The annual report shows Brierley turned up to six out of eight board meetings and three out of five remuneration and nomination meetings.

But Brierley blamed the pension liabilities on a change in law made by the British Government and said he had been to every meeting bar one in his entire 22-year history with the company.

"You are talking absolute nonsense," Brierley said.

"Some of those are just telephone hook-ups which last for just five minutes."

Hawkins said after the meeting that if shareholders didn't have the knowledge of the business that they should it was a reflection of the poor transparency of GPG in the past.

Shares in GPG closed up 1c yesterday at 49.5c.

- NZ Herald

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