Shareholder revolt claims Myer chairman hours before AGM

Shareholder revolt claims Myer chairman hours before AGM

The chairman of an Australian retail icon has bowed to the inevitable and walked away from his position just hours before the company's annual general meeting.

Myer (ASX: MYR) chair Garry Hounsell (pictured) announced the move this morning after the 120-year-old company's two largest shareholders revealed they would not support his re-election.

Hounsell said ahead of today's AGM, it had become apparent that Myer's two largest shareholders, Sydney fund manager Geoff Wilson and Melboure investor Solomon Lew, would not support another term.

"I will not allow my ongoing tenure as chairman to be a distraction to the hard work of the executive team," he said.

"In my three years as chairman, we have pursued a clear strategy that has strengthened the Myer business, allowing it to come through the severe disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns to be well positioned as we head into the crucial end-of-year trading period.

"Our online business is going from strength to strength, with growth of almost 100 per cent in the second half of FY20 to become one of the biggest and fastest-growing online retail stores in Australia, and the Customer First strategy led by our CEO, John King, and the executive team sees our stores well-stocked and well-prepared for summer."

The move comes after one of the two rebel shareholders, Geoff Wilson, sent a letter last month calling on the Myer board to cull director numbers and reduce renumeration for the remainder.

Wilson also alluded to credit concerns for the company and supply issues ahead of the Christmas retail period.

While the Myer board acted on the letter, with non-executive directors Lyndsey Cattermole and Julie Ann Morrison announcing they would not seek re-election at the AGM, it was not enough to mollify Wilson.

Following Hounsell's retirement, JoAnne Stephenson has been appointed as acting chairman while a global search is undertaken to find a replacement Chairman.

Stephenson called for calm after the resignation, saying it was essential that John King and Myer's management team are able to execute the strategy during the all-important peak trading period, between Black Friday and January's Stocktake Sale, without further disruption.

Premier Investments calls for total board spill

Solomon Lew's Premier Investments (ASX: PMV) was quick to hail the move, stating it was the 'green shoot' Myer shareholders had long been waiting for.

However, the company was quick to call for further scalps.

"Mr Hounsell's ousting signals to the entire Board that their time is up," the statement said.

"In the interests of all shareholders, we expect the remaining Myer directors will now indicate their intention to step aside in an orderly manner or face an Extraordinary General Meeting at which they will be certainly dismissed.

"In Premier's view, a global search for a new chairman is a waste of shareholders' time and money. Myer is an Australian icon and it requires a board with proven Australian retail credentials and commercial experience, including key skills in property, information technology, e-commerce and logistics. "

Premier said the company intended to continue to consult with other major shareholders and together they would reconstitute the Myer board with a majority of independent directors led by an independent chairperson.

"Premier will seek to have representation on the new Myer board in line with its holding."

Hounsell took over the chair at the former retail goliath in September 2017 with the company's share price hovering around the 72 cent mark. 

Myer shares fell by 2.08 per cent to 24 cents per share at 12:20pm AEDT.

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