Finance Finance News The people who had corporate Australia talking in 2013
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The people who had corporate Australia talking in 2013

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It was by no means a dull year in the corporate world, with a considerable number of high profile people making waves for the right or, more often than not, wrong reasons. Here’s a selection of people who were at the centre of some very public dramas.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp and 21st Century Fox

rupertmurdochWhat: This year, the mogul was embroiled in the ongoing scandal of the phone-hacking saga at his now-defunct tabloid newspaper News of the World. Interestingly, Mr Murdoch took to Twitter to address the trial in October, writing: “Big media trials in London in 2 weeks. Remember, everyone innocent until proven guilty, entitled to fair trial in most countries.”

His activity on Twitter has also been another source of controversy. He faced a backlash in August over a tweet declaring that “Societies have to integrate. Muslims find it hardest.”

The 82-year-old finally divided his empire this year, separating his entertainment and publishing assets. His entertainment assets, 20th Century Fox and US network Fox, formed a new entity – 21st Century Fox. His publishing assets continued to function under the News Corp moniker.

Mr Murdoch added to his legal complications by divorcing from his wife of 14 years, Wendi Deng. The couple chose to forego a trial and headed straight to a settlement, where Deng scored their $44 million Manhattan triplex.

Public reaction: Murdoch-owned newspapers were widely criticised for their anti-Labor coverage of the Australian election and Murdoch himself was accused of having an agenda. The sordid details that emerged throughout the News of the World trial certainly didn’t help News Corp’s image, either.

Memorable quote:

Andrew Demetriou, AFL chief executive

178191941What: Mr Demetriou has endured a challenging year, with the emergence of allegations that Essendon players were administered questionable supplements. When the news broke, Mr Demetriou used a radio interview to encourage Essendon coach James Hird to “consider” stepping down. In June, The Herald Sun revealed a phone call between Mr Demetriou and ex-Essendon chairman David Evans suggesting that Mr Demetriou informed him that his players had been given supplements. The day after the phone call, Essendon self-reported to ASADA (the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority).

In December, Mr Demetriou made the decision to strip Essendon of funding until they ceased paying the suspended Mr Hird. Mr Hird’s wife, Tania, accused Mr Demetriou of lying about not knowing that Mr Hird was being paid during his suspension.

Public reaction: While there is no doubt that, from a corporate standpoint, the AFL has never been stronger than under Mr Demetriou’s control, he has also proved himself to be an polarising public figure. This year, he copped some flak for his messy handling of the disastrous Essendon saga and his rumoured six-figure salary.

Memorable quote: “(I was asked) whether I tipped off David Evans before they came forward … and I stated yesterday categorically, as I did on previous occasions, that I did not.” – Andrew Demetriou discussing the alleged phone call to David Evans on 3AW.

Glenn Stevens, Governor, Reserve Bank of Australia

149166334What: Treasurer Wayne Swan reappointed Stevens as governor of the RBA for another three years in April. In October, Mr Stevens indicated that he was not concerned by the surge in Australian house prices and saw no cause to worry about a potential housing bubble.

In December, the Australian dollar suffered a 1.5 per cent fall after Mr Stevens told The Australian Financial Review that he would prefer to see the value of the dollar fall, rather than lower interest rates, as a means to boost the economy. Mr Stevens told the AFR that he would like to see the dollar closer to 85 cents.

But in a year when the national economy continued to soften and unemployment continued to edge higher, Mr Stevens’ monthly decisions on interest rates were keenly debated. He is talked about precisely because, like the Treasurer, he has our finances at his fingertips.

Public reaction: Mr Stevens’ reappointment was well received. He is regarded as a trusted leader of monetary policy who has kept interest rates low and is a steady hand on the tiller of the RBA.

Memorable quote: “To the extent that we get some more easing in financial conditions, at this point it’s probably more preferable for that to be via a lower currency at the margin than lower interest rates.” – Glenn Stevens to The Australian Financial Review.

Gina Rinehart, mining magnate

ginarinehartWhat: Dropping from 41 to 61 this year on Bloomberg’s list of global wealth rankings, Ms Rinehart has reportedly lost $3 billion in net worth after revenues fell at her company, Hancock Prospecting. Australia’s richest woman, Ms Hancock has had an eventful year involving a court battle with her own children.

Her daughter, 25-year-old Ginia Rinehart, was Ms Rinehart’s only ally during a bitter feud over the family trust. The billionaire’s two eldest children, John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart, accused their mother of demonstrating “deceptive, manipulative and disgraceful conduct” in her role as the fund’s trustee to prevent them from accessing their inheritances. In an attempt to end the conflict and avoid going to trial, Ms Rinehart made the surprising decision to discharge herself as trustee, but to no avail.

She also made a concerted bid to take over media company Fairfax. With a 14.99 per cent stake, down from 19 per cent, Ms Rinehart is Fairfax’s largest shareholder, but her interest seems to have cooled. Ms Rinehart has been open about her campaign against the existing board. At a recent shareholder meeting in November, she voted against three of the four resolutions and her representative, Hancock chief development officer, John Klepec, criticised the board, saying “the current team is not the team to deliver any growth in this company”.

Public reaction: Ms Rinehart has been criticised by members of the public who see her as out of touch with reality due to her excessive wealth. A number of commentators have expressed fears that she is attempting to use her influence to make Fairfax a mouthpiece for the mining industry.

Memorable quote: “Given it’s Melbourne Cup week, the donkeys eat first in the Fairfax stable. The thoroughbreds eat and drink last.” – Hancock representative John Klepec commenting on the behaviour of the Fairfax board at a shareholders’ meeting in November.

Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of Ten Network

119410211What: After taking over Channel Ten two years ago and promising to steer it in a new direction, Mr Murdoch has this year found himself at the helm of a failing network. Share prices for Channel Ten have dived and Mr Murdoch has lost some of his own personal fortune in the process. In February, Mr Murdoch fired James Warburton, the second chief executive to be sacked in Murdoch’s time at the network.

Tongues started wagging when Mr Warburton’s replacement was announced to be Hamish McLennan, a former advertising exec who had been working in an advisory role in the personal office of Mr Murdoch’s father, News Corporation founder Rupert Murdoch. The move seemed to suggest Mr Mudoch was returning to the cover provided by his father’s influence. In November, the national media regulator suggested that it would not oppose a News Corp bid to takeover Channel Ten.

Public reaction: Media commentators have blamed Mr Murdoch for many of the network’s woes, pointing out that the company has been ailing ever since he joined the board.

Memorable quote: “I rate Lachlan. Anyone who underestimates him is making a mistake.” – James Packer on Murdoch to Fairfax Media.

 

Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO

141654393What: On December 5, Qantas made the announcement of $300 million in half-yearly losses and the plan to cut 1000 jobs. Mr Joyce told media that this was a result of competition the airline faced on international and domestic routes, accusing main competitor Virgin Australia of failing to operate in a free and fair market. He was quick to write in The Australian that Qantas was “not Holden” and was by no means requesting government handouts. The job cuts were also expected to be accompanied by salary cuts for Mr Joyce and other top executives.

Mr Joyce also defended Qantas’ controversial investment in Asia with its Jetstar brand, calling it “a great example of Australian entrepreneurship.”

Public reaction: News of job cuts is never well-received and critics have pinned Qantas’ recent failings on Joyce’s management. Senator Nick Xenophon called for Joyce’s resignation on numerous occasions.

Memorable quote: ““The Qantas board and management are operating in tough environments and I believe are continuing to do a good job in tough circumstances,” he said. – Alan Joyce, at a media conference announcing job cuts and a huge half-yearly loss.

 

Nathan Tinkler, former mining magnate and businessman

83361970What: From an electrician to a billionaire and back again – Mr Tinkler made it big when he invested in a Queensland coalmine and, subsequently, a Rio Tinto coalmine. Both were incredibly lucrative and made him a billionaire. After his fast rise to extreme wealth, the media nicknamed him the “Boganaire” when he abused a journalist during a phone interview in 2010. This year, he lost it all when lenders took him to court over unpaid debts. Mr Tinkler was forced to sell his private jet, prized racehorses and, finally, his 20 per cent stake in Whitehaven Coal. His downfall prompted an unauthorised biography, Boganaire: The Rise and Fall of Nathan Tinkler, by journalist Paddy Manning.

Public reaction: Schadenfreude. By those who oppose him, Mr Tinkler has been accused of using a wide range of expletives, failing to fulfill financial obligations, making ill-informed bets and leaving a trail of destruction and angry, unpaid people in his wake.

Memorable quote: “He’s a grub and he doesn’t pay his bills.” – Tim Curry, an electrician who worked for Mr Tinkler, speaking to Four Corners.

 

James Packer, casino mogul

jamespackerWhat: This year, Mr Packer had tongues wagging more because of his personal life than his business ventures. Packer and his wife of six years, Erica, announced their divorce in September, and the billionaire agreed to pay his ex-wife a whopping $100 million settlement.

Soon after their separation, reports emerged that Mr Packer was rebounding from Erica, mother to his three children, with newly-single model Miranda Kerr. While the reports are yet to be confirmed, the relationship is plausible given the Packers have been friends with Kerr and her ex-husband Orlando Bloom for many years, often holidaying together.

In November, the NSW government approved Mr Packer’s bid to build a $1.5 billion Crown Casino resort at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour. The project will provide thousands of jobs to NSW citizens.

Public reaction: If reports of a Kerr-Packer romance prove to be true, the public will no doubt take umbrage at the speed with which both parties moved on from their recently dissolved marriages.

Memorable quote: “It is with great sadness that Erica and James Packer announce their separation. We remain deeply close friends and incredibly proud parents and our children are our priority going forward.” – A statement released to the press on behalf of James and Erica Packer.

 

Olivia Wirth, Qantas marketing and corporate affairs executive

2907810-16x9-700x394What: After becoming the media face of the 2011 grounding of the Qantas fleet over a union dispute, the corporate world was surprised by reports of Ms Wirth’s engagement to the head of the Australian Workers’ Union, Paul Howes.

Widely regarded as Alan Joyce’s right-hand woman, Wirth was stripped of her responsibility for government relations in May – a move rumoured to be prompted by her relationship with Howes, despite Joyce’s vehement denial that this was the case. Her new position as head of marketing is a huge promotion for the 37-year-old and, regardless of the motivations behind it, has prompted speculation in corporate circles that Wirth is being groomed as a future CEO.

Public reaction: Many regard the relationship as a colossal clash of interests, but friends of Wirth and Howes describe them as happier than they have ever been.

Memorable quote: “I am not involved in politics yet I had been put into this [conservative] box because I was seen as the face of the anti-union campaign and so you get classified as to who you are and what you stand for. Then it is like, ‘The behavior you are showing now [with Howes] is not the way we think you should behave’. It was fascinating and I guess I didn’t see myself like that.” – Olivia Wirth, talking about the furore surrounding her relationship with Paul Howes to The Australian.

Clive Palmer, Mineralogy chairman and MP

clivepalmerWhat: In October, Palmer won the seat of Fairfax in Federal Parliament from Liberal National Party candidate Ted O’Brien by 53 votes. The most interesting element of his election was seen as his obligation as a federal parliamentarian to provide a pecuniary interest disclosure detailing his assets – a topic he has been notoriously unwilling to discuss. The disclosure suggested that his investment portfolio was varied, with interests in more than 100 companies, but provided no real idea of exactly how much Mr Palmer is worth.

Mr Palmer also made headlines with his decision to open a controversial “Palmersaurus” dinosaur park at a Queensland resort formerly known as the Hyatt Coolum. Mr Palmer, who purchased the resort in 2011, has installed 160 moving dinosaur models around guest accommodation.

Finally, Mr Palmer was accused of potentially deterring Chinese investors in Australia through his legal dispute with Chinese company CITIC Pacific over royalty payments for a WA iron ore development. In a leaked voicemail to a CITIC executive, Palmer was recorded saying, “You won’t pay your bloody rates or pay your rent. I’ve had enough of you. So pack up all your gear and get back to China.”

Public reaction: While Mr Palmer garnered a reputation as a buffoon, he has proven to be a formidable force in business and politics.

Memorable quote: “I never worry about money because if you live your life properly, you always have enough money to do what you want to do. Only my wife counts the money, I just count the experience, we’re all travellers through life.” – Clive Palmer, to The Sydney Morning Herald, regarding his decision to open a dinosaur park.

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