January 14, 2008
This Matthew Murphy story appeared in The Age on November 11, 2007, after the fiery Qantas AGM in Melbourne.
Qantas has made a bold bid to retain its 65 per cent "line in the sand" market share, using its annual meeting to announce plans to buy almost 200 narrow-bodied aircraft at a cost of $3.5 billion. In what was a colourful and sometimes heated swan song for chairman Margaret Jackson, Qantas shareholders demanded to know why she and the Qantas board had unanimously recommended Airline Partners Australia's $5.45-a-share takeover offer for the airline. The bid crashed spectacularly in May, failing to receive the required number of acceptances.
Shareholders overwhelmingly endorsed the board's appointment of former Rio Tinto boss Leigh Clifford, electing him Qantas chairman, effective immediately.
Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon told shareholders the airline would buy 108 Airbus A320s and A321s plus 80 Boeing 737-800s over the next 10 years. Jetstar will receive the first of the aircraft, to be based in Melbourne, from early next year.
Mr Dixon said the aircraft would increase the fleets of Qantas and Jetstar in Australia and Asia and defend the Qantas Group's commitment to a minimum 65 per cent share of the domestic market.
Darwin and Perth will become regional aviation hubs over the next two years as the group looks to increasing its services to the growing Asian market.
In her last appearance as Qantas chairman, Ms Jackson hinted that plans were afoot to replace former non-executive director James Packer. Ms Jackson said an international headhunter had identified several suitable female candidates who could improve the gender balance on the Qantas board.
With Ms Jackson's retirement, Wesfarmers director Patricia Cross becomes the sole woman on the board.
While many shareholders wished Ms Jackson well after 15 years on the board, others called for answers to why no profit upgrade had been issued for the latest year, given that two months after the takeover bid failed the airline announced a substantially higher profit than forecast.
Since the bid's collapse, Qantas shares have consistently traded above the $5.45 offer price. Yesterday they slipped 7? to $5.77.
Shareholder activist Stephen Mayne was applauded after calling for the board to resign. "How on earth can you all sit up there having done this?" he said. "The honourable thing would be for you to progressively all move on and actually bring in directors who understand."
Ms Jackson said the board had relied on the best advice from management and financial advisers UBS and Carnegie Wylie.
"At the time we thought we had chosen the best advisers that we could and we did grill our advisers," she said. "It was a different environment and the market has moved on since then."
Mr Dixon said Ms Jackson "leaves Qantas in good shape".
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