SkyCity Entertainment Group's rash of resignations announced today did not indicate any instability or trouble with the business, its chairman told investors and analysts today.
Instead, Rob Campbell stressed the business was stable and changes with three key executives were either in the wings for months or coincidence.
Chief executive Graeme Stephens was today replaced by chief operating officer Michael Ahearne, chief financial officer Rob Hamilton will leave in February and chief marketing officer Liza McNally in March.
Research analyst Chelsea Leadbetter of Forsyth Barr said most people would be surprised about the sudden changes and fund manager Matt Goodson of Salt said such major changes were unexpected.
But Campbell fronted an investor call by saying at the start that while he appreciated it might appear sudden, Stephens' role had been under discussion for months.
"While it's a quick change, from the board's point of view it's very much about stability," Campbell said.
"This business has been through a lot in the last couple of years and we're very concerned we have a good stable transition. While it seems like a short time period to external people, it reinforces stability within the business," Campbell said.
Marcus Curley, of UBS, expressed surprise at Stephens being replaced today by Ahearne, but Campbell said: "Different practices occur in different situations. In this instance, we have a CEO taking over who's match fit, match ready. He doesn't have to work his way into it. He knows all the people, processes, issues so that's what led to the decision we all reached together."
Asked about Ahearne's new contract, Campbell said details would be declared in the next annual report.
Ahearne said he had been involved in "global gaming for coming on 20 years. I'm excited ... the board has the confidence in me to lead this business. We have some challenges but it's a great company and organisation. We've a strong team here operationally. We're just getting on with business. Graeme's someone I've worked with very closely over the last three years."
Nothing was planned to change and the same path would be followed.
"The focus right now is on our core business, navigating through Covid and opening Adelaide next week. That property looks fantastic. And of course the NZICC and the online business which has gone quite nicely over the past few months."
Stephens, who stepped into the CEO role three-and-a-half years ago, had been talking to the board for some time about retiring.
"Graeme has always indicated he would retire in four to five years and we've always worked to that view. During this year, we've had a number of discussions with Graeme about when he might wish to retire. We didn't have a definite intention but the board and Graeme agreed to a process," Campbell said referring to external and internal executives.
"We took the view we had two very strong candidates for the role," Campbell said.
The best appointee was Ahearne, Campbell said. "We think he's an excellent successor to Graeme."
Ahearne had overseen SkyCity's operations here and in and Australia since December 2017 and launched SkyCity online casino in August last year.
Campbell said that in the last couple of weeks "we reached the joint view the best thing for the business is that we made a short-term change and didn't leave it for a long period of change."
Graeme "will do further things in New Zealand business. He calls this retirement," Campbell said but the board expects him to carry on in the business sector.
Campbell said CFO Hamilton "has made the decision he will resign and see the business through till the period after the half-year results are announced. He has enormous potential to take on another senior executive role. It's entirely predictable Rob would announce his resignation. We're positive he will have an amazing future in business."
It was "quite un-related" that Liza McNally made the decision to go to Adelaide with her family, Campbell said. So the position of the CMO needed to be filled too.
"While I appreciate to some from the outside this may seem sudden, it fits consistently with what the business now needs to do with."
Hamilton said he had been in discussions with the board for the last six months, after being at SkyCity for six years. He would look for new challenges and opportunities outside SkyCity but would stay on till February 26.
The company was in good heart and comfortable hands, Hamilton said.
Asked why Stephens was retiring from SkyCity but Campbell said he would seek other roles in business, Campbell said Stephens was "not an old man like me".
Asked about Stephens' employment contract which specified six months notice before resigning, Campbell said Stephens "will be paid out all his entitlements under his contractors. There are no extra inducements".
In an investor presentation also out today, the company said domestic business continued to trade well, the Adelaide expansion was on time and on budget and SkyCity was on track to resume paying dividends from the end of its 2021 financial year.
The company was performing better than expected at the time of the full-year result and there was no change to the previous outlook.
Group normalised EBITDA was expected to be above the 2020 result but well below pre-Covid and 2019 levels.
SkyCity shares are today trading on the NZX around $3.01, down from $3.15 on Friday. The ASX share price fell 4 per cent to trade around A$2.84.