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Woolies AGM suitably glum - but where were the shareholders?


Woolies AGM suitably glum - but where were the shareholders?

Following the group’s worst year since it listed, it is remarkable that few of them bothered to turn up

Ann Crotty

For years now Woolworths’s annual general meetings have been unusually sombre affairs. The grim mood was not helped by what was essentially a hijacking of the 2015 AGM by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which was determined to punish Woolworths for importing a rather meagre selection of goods from Israel.
BDS may have had little effect on Woolworths’s purchasing policy but it left an indelible mark on the conduct of the group’s AGMs. They now take place with tight security, which is off-putting for all but the most determined.
It might explain why this year the audience of 100 or so people comprised a large chunk of Woolworths’ employees. Whatever the employees were there for it was not to ask questions. And, remarkably, given the R7bn write-off on the Australian adventure and the appalling missteps with the local clothing division, few shareholders had bothered to turn up to quiz the board.
We’re left to assume that following the group’s worst year since it listed in the late 1990s the major shareholders were content to discuss the write-off and the dismal clothing contribution privately behind closed doors.
CEO Ian Moir and CFO Reeza Isaacs looked appropriately glum throughout the proceedings. If the Australian adventure had gone well they would of course now be heroes and shareholders would have been persuaded to overlook the value-destroying clothing decisions as well as the seeming inability to take corrective action.
Now it’s uncertain whether Moir will have the time, before he retires, to rescue David Jones and his reputation. Also uncertain is whether there will be more impairments on the Australian department chain. The board said it does not expect to have to make any further impairments, but it’s not certain.

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