New CEOs who embrace write-offs

December 27, 2022

Here is a list of Australian companies that have allowed a new CEO to take the helm and wield the axe on balance sheet values in what is sometimes a cynical deck-clearing exercise to make the previous CEO look bad and boost future profits.

AMP: the $5.542 billion loss in 2004 was the final clearing of the decks by new CEO Andrew Mohl from the disastrous move into the UK over the previous 25 years.

AMP: AMP recorded a net loss of $403 million in 1999 after new CEO Paul Batchelor took a $1 billion write off on its investment in GIO, something he had driven as finance director at the time.

AMP: Francesco De Ferrari joined the AMP board on January 31, 2019 and on February 14 AMP reported a $28 million full year profit. Then the deck clearing exercise came with his new strategy on August 8, 2019 when a $2.3 billion first half loss was reported along with a $650 million emergency institutional placement and a renegotiated life insurance sale.

ANZ: when Don Mercer replaced Will Bailey as CEO in 1992 he cleared the decks and reported a $600 million net loss due to a huge surge in bad debts caused by Paul Keating's recession we had to have and reckless property lending.

Adsteam: the group of companies put together by John Spalvins together wracked up losses of $1.58 billion in the year to June 30, 1991, shortly after the company founder was finally ousted by the banks.

Aristocrat Leisure: the gaming machine maker had a net loss of $106 million for 2003, after new CEO Paul Oneile wrote down the value of contracts and business operations. This was laughable given the business had cash flow of $200 million for the year and book asset were already only a fraction of market value.

BHP: When Paul Anderson and finance director Chip Goodyear took the reins in the late 1990s they cleared the decks and declared a then Australian record $2.3 billion loss for BHP in 1998-99 with write-offs across the board but especially in the Magma Copper division. This was after incumbent John Prescott announced $3 billion in write-offs and a $1.47 billion loss in 1997-98.

Challenger: while they weren't sweeping one-off write-downs the new CEO Richard Howes triggered a 17% share rout when he announced this profit downgrade on January 23, 2019. He had worked with Challenger since 2003 and the transition from predecessor Brian Benari was announced on October 26, 2018 with a proposed transition in January, but he only formally joined the board on January 2, 2019, so the profit warning took this 3 weeks to deliver.

Davids Holdings: once again, it was the new broom CEO in action as former Packer finance man Don Bourke took over the running of the company and came up with massive write-downs and a $240 million net loss in 1996-97.

Fairfax Media: new CEO Brian McCarthy took an axe to the balance sheet with write-downs of $447.4 million announced in February 2009, producing a net loss of $365.3 million. However, this still left claimed net assets of $4.5 billion which completely dwarfed the market capitalisation for a number of years.

Futuris: Malcolm Jackman came in as the new CEO in September 2008 and managed a net loss of $329 million in the December half after $346 million in write-downs. However, with debt of $1.2 billion and a market capitalisation below $300 million, the write-downs could have been much larger because net assets were only cut from $1.3 billion to $850 million.

GIO: analysts were expecting a $160 million profit but after just five weeks in the job, new CEO Nick Steffey took an axe to reinsurance and workers compensation provisions to come up with a net loss of $26.7 million for 1997-98, a move that sparked an opportunistic hostile bid by AMP.

Insurance Australia Group: new CEO Michael Wilkins wrote down the value of its its UK assets by $350 million in his strategic review unveiled a few weeks after taking over as CEO in 2008. The final losses from the UK adventure finished at $1.3 billion so he could have gone further at the time.

Lend Lease: new CEO Greg Clarke announced a $715 million loss for 2002-03 after $945 million worth of writedowns in the value of its US, Asian and European real estate businesses.

Mayne Nickless: new CEO Peter Smedley cleared the decks in 1999-00 with $243 million in write-downs which produced a net loss of $174 million as the share price surged and then later plunged again as the Smedley miracle proved to be a mirage.

MIM: the perennially struggling miner recruited Nick Stump from Comalco and he did the usual thing and cleared the decks in his first outing to announce a $216 million bottom-line loss for 1994-95.

Newcrest: announced a $2.21 billion statutory loss in August 2014, mainly due to write-downs on Lihir, just 6 weeks after new CEO Sandeep Biswas had formally succeeded Greg Robinson on July 4.

Orica: the chemical giant reported a $195 million bottom-line loss for the year to the end of September 2001 after new CEO Malcolm Broomhead came in and cleared the decks with large write-offs and job cuts.

Sausage Software: the IT company has now been renamed SMS Management and Technology but with the likes of Steve Outtrim, Wayne Bos and Gil Hoskins out the door, new CEO Lloyd Roberts cleared the decks in 2000-01 reporting a net loss of $264 million.

Seven West Media: James Warburton replaced Tim Worner as CEO just 4 days before the 2018-19 results were released when the board had presumably already resolved to take $574 million in write-downs which triggered a bottom line loss of $444 million as net assets crashed to just $104 million or 6.8c per share.

Southcorp: John Ballard replaced Keith Lambert as CEO and announced a net loss of $922 million for 2002-03, blaming difficult trading conditions in the UK and Australia and a lower contribution from super premium wines because of the smaller 2000 vintage.

Tabcorp: plunged to a net loss of $164.6 million in 2007-08 after writing down its Victorian pokies licence by $487.7 million and taking a $194 million charge against its wagering business as the new CEO Elmo Funke Kupper wielded the axe.

Woolworths: new CEO Brad Banducci announced $955 million in write-downs in July 2016, 5 months after he took over when the board had already initiated more than $3 billion in write-downs, largely related to Masters.

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