Resignation unsettles Contact shareholders

By FIONA ROTHERHAM

Contact Energy's shareholders yesterday showed their disquiet at the resignation of highly paid chief executive Paul Anthony, with the share price dropping 11c to close at 276c.

Mr Anthony was viewed as one of the country's best chief executives and well-rated by international institutions.

He will leave in October, after four years, to take up an executive role with British Gas International.

Mr Anthony is in Britain on annual leave and could not be reached for comment.

Contact chairman Phil Pryke said the Welsh-born chief executive would be a hard act to follow.

'It's sad but people move on in their careers. He has left a very strong platform for us to go on and recruit a new chief executive."

An international hunt is already under way for his replacement although it may take more than three months to fill the gap.

Mr Pryke said the company's ambitions to expand within Australasia added some "frisson to the mix."

Contact is shortlisted to buy the coal-fired Flinders power station in South Australia, with a decision due early next month.

It would give the company the ability to build a marketing and trading operation in Australia.

Salomon Smith Barney utilities analyst Stephen Shoobert said there had been no move from Contact's major shareholder, California's Edison Mission Energy, to groom one of its executives to replace Mr Anthony or for other key management positions.

This had happened with the previous overseas shareholders in rival company TransAlta.

Mr Anthony was recently paid close to a $1 million share bonus as part of his remuneration package, which includes a base pay of $450,000.

He is one of New Zealand's highest paid executives, earning a lot more than the chief executives of other listed power companies.

His total remuneration last year was $3.66 million.

That figure included $2.5 million to remove a golden parachute in his contract following the Government sale of the company in May last year.

A requirement in Mr Anthony's contract to stay on for privatisation and beyond ended in May.

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