The sex scandal threatening the career of Seven West boss Tim Worner is rapidly turning into a crisis for one of Australia’s largest media companies.
Mr Worner, chief executive of Seven West Media since 2013, has come under intense public scrutiny after a former executive assistant, Amber Harrison, revealed she received cash payments to remain silent about a two-year affair she had with the corporate high flyer.
The New Daily understands Ms Harrison was paid $100,000 to not disclose details of her affair with Mr Worner.
In November 2014, Ms Harrison ceased working for the company after she was made redundant.
She told Fairfax that Seven West failed to pay her $350,000 that was allegedly promised to her under a redundancy deal.
The Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA) has called on Mr Worner to resign over the scandal.
Mr Worner’s fate is in the hands of a board that includes majority shareholder and chairman Kerry Stokes, and his son Ryan, former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett and former Essendon chairman David Evans.
The 10-member board includes only two women.
For now, Seven West Media is standing by the embattled chief executive but has issued a statement condemning Mr Worner’s “unacceptable” affair.
‘He has brought the company into disrepute’
The ASA is demanding that the board explain why it committed so much time and cash trying to shore up the reputation of the chief executive.
“Clearly it’s not just company funds, but a lot of time and distraction has been used up,” said ASA director Stephen Mayne.
“He would want to be a very good CEO just to warrant the heartache and grief to protect him.”
The scandal casts doubt on whether Seven West Media is enforcing the code of conduct to which all directors of the company are expected to adhere.
Mr Worner’s conduct appears to have breached the code, including the requirement that “a director should not engage in conduct likely to bring discredit upon the company”.
“Well, he has brought the company into disrepute,” said Mr Mayne, adding: “But there is also the cover-up, so everyone is looking pretty ordinary at Seven.”
The ASA believes the board should actively pursue a CEO succession to be completed before the next shareholders’ meeting in October next year.
“They also need to reach finality with Amber Harrison – it would make sense as part of his departure to also have final agreement with her and any other affected party,” Mr Mayne said.
“When Tim Worner next appears in public he is going to have to address these allegations – it’s not going to go away.”
Seven standing by their man
Despite investor concerns, Seven West Media is standing by Mr Worner,
After negotiations between Ms Harrison and Seven broke down this week, Ms Harrison revealed details of allegedly drug-fuelled trysts with the married father-of-four.
Ms Harrison also claimed Mr Worner, 17 years her senior, had engaged in affairs with four other company employees, including a presenter. Seven West denies the claims.
It has also been reported that Ms Harrison made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission about the string of alleged affairs.
In a statement, Seven admitted the affair had taken place and highlighted that Kerry Stokes had warned Mr Worner in 2014 that the affair was “unacceptable”.
“The chairman has always made clear to Mr Worner that the alleged conduct, even though a personal matter, was completely unacceptable,” the company said in the statement, while noting Mr Worner would not be stepped down.
Seven “rejected totally” the allegations relating to the other four women and said many of Ms Harrison’s claims contained “wide-ranging inaccuracies and false statements”.
Ms Harrison has also alleged that she consumed cocaine with Mr Worner and that both accessed company funds to facilitate their affair.
In a statement, Mr Worner apologised for engaging in an “inappropriate” relationship with Ms Harrison, but did not comment on the drug claims.