Rolled Vector directors David Bartholomew and Sibylle Krieger were collateral damage as Entrust waged a personal vendetta against him, chairman Michael Stiassny told shareholders at the lines company's annual meeting in Auckland this afternoon.
Saying he felt freer to speak his mind given it was his final meeting as chairman, the departing Stiassny took pot shots at boardroom rivals aligned to Entrust, critics of Vector's relationship with Israeli defence company mPrest and the Commerce Commission.
Bartholomew and Krieger resigned from the board on Friday under pressure from Entrust, the consumer trust that owns 75 per cent of Vector.
At the AGM, two Entrust-aligned candidates were elected to the board, each by a wide margin: Entrust trustee and former Hirepool chief executive Michael Buczkowski (a new director) and Dame Alison Patterson (who was re-elected).
Stiassny said Bartholomew and Krieger were appointed to the board in February "following an exhaustive recruitment process in which all directors took part and in which Vector's main shareholder [Entrust] participated.
"Their short tenure has nothing to do with them and everything to do with what may be called a personal vendetta being waged against me and anyone who is seen to be sharing my vision for Vector," he said.
"Their departure from Vector is sadly embarrassing and a significant loss and not in Vector's best interests - something I'd hoped that all shareholders had close to their hearts.
"Sadly, some actions of my fellow directors in the last few months have not been driven by any wish to do what is best for Vector but rather for their own personal desires."
Buczkowski kept his own comments to the meeting brief and upbeat, giving a rundown of his CV and saying he wanted to increase Vector's share price and dividend.
Stiassny cut off a question from the floor to Patterson, asking if she intended to stand for chair. That was a matter for the new board to discuss, Stiassny said.
The departing chairman also defended Vector's June decision to partner with mPrest - maker of Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-rocket system on smart grid technology.
"The statement has been made that mPrest have been involved in making military equipment - bombs etc. Under no circumstance while I've been at Vector would we have tolerated that, and they don't do that," Stiassny told shareholders.
"What they do is create a defence system that does not kill anyone - completely different."
He added, "It's a bit sad it's been discussed in the press so negatively when for instance Rocket Lab - which we all think is the most wonderful thing - and it is - is actually significantly owned by Lockheed Martin, which does produce weapons that kill people. But no one really cares about that."
Stiassny said Vector returns to shareholders had averaged 11 per cent. Chief executive Simon MacKenzie weighed in, saying what he called forecasting errors by the Commerce Commission around inflation and electricity demand had cost the company $28m a year.
Other forces had also aligned against Vector, the pair said.
"Climate change is here. Unfortunately, we'll have more outages as a result," Stiassny told shareholders.
MacKenzie described the April storm that took out power for around 100,000 Auckland homes was a hurricane, on the basis winds hit 215km/h- the same as Hurricane Florence in the US in September (contemporary reports put Hurricane Florence at 210 to 251km/h).
But the Vector boss said it would cost $5.5 billion to underground the 45 per cent of Auckland lines that are still above ground.
He said undergrounding would more than double lines charges for the average household from $700 to $1570 per year. He thought consumers were unlikely to be up for that - and more in the context of the electricity pricing review already underway.
MacKenzie said Vector was better off spending money on other solutions to make its network more resilient - including better tree management, encouraging adoption of solar power and batteries, and "micro-grids for remote communities".
The strategy ultimately adopted by Vector would depend in part on the 2020 regulatory reset, the chief executive said.
After saying he felt freer to talk given it was his final meeting, Stiassny said Commerce Commission guidelines for Vector's operation were "no longer fit for purpose" and out of sync with health and safety laws relating to workers fixing lines. "Doing the right thing for our people is not something we should be harangued about," he said.
Final voting results won't be released until later today, but proxy votes totals showed that two Entrust-aligned directors, Entrust trustee and Hirepool chief executive Michael Buczkowski and Dame Alison Patterson were elected to the board by a large margin.
Buczkowski said he would be focused on increasing the share price and dividend.
Patterson was re-elected. Buczkowski is new to the board. Stiassny told the meeting that Vector is now four directors short of the maximum allowed under its constitution, including the two who resigned on the eve of the meeting.
The stage was set on Friday, when Vector majority owner Entrust flexed its muscles and dumped two directors appointed earlier this year.
Directors David Bartholomew and Sibylle Krieger both quit after the recently elected Entrust trustees withdrew their support.
"The resignations follow the decision by Entrust, Vector's majority shareholder, not to support their election at Vector's annual meeting," an NZX notice said.
The two highly experienced directors are both from Sydney and their appointment was seen as a coup for the utilities company.
At the time of their appointment, Vector's chairman Michael Stiassny said he looked forward to the valuable contribution they would make as ''Vector strives to create a new energy future.''
Stiassny is also on the way out after a bust up with Entrust which owns 75.1 per cent of Vector on behalf of Auckland consumers.
Trust chairman William Cairns said, in August, the relationship with Stiassny had irrevocably broken down.
Stiassny had raised the possibility that the $350 a year consumer dividend could be cut.
Stiassny is an insolvency specialist who has held a number of directorships including being on the Vector board for 16 years.
Centre-right Communities and Residents candidates last month won all seats in the election for the Entrust, in an election with a record low turnout.
Four sitting C and R trustees were returned: Karen Sherry, Michael Buczkowski, Cairns and Paul Hutchison. A new member Alastair Bell was also elected.