Packer praise all round at debut Seek AGM

By Stephen Mayne
January 14, 2008

There wouldn't have been any discussion at the first Seek AGM if we hand't turned up. This was published in Crikey on November 8, 2006.

James Packer was praising everyone in sight at the first Seek AGM in Melbourne yesterday, so much so that he almost expressed appreciation for Crikey's questions.

"Thank you, I think", the Seek chairman said after he, CEO Paul Bassatt and the two other executive directors seeking re-election, Andrew Bassatt and Matthew Rockman, all handled Crikey's questions without any problems.

As with many maiden AGMs, Seek would have been a boring no-questions affair without Crikey's presence, as no other shareholder spoke and the small room at the Stamford Plaza Hotel was full of Seekophiles who loudly applauded the CEO's address and the conclusion of the meeting. The same thing happened in the same room at Austereo this morning. I was 15 minutes late but it was already finished, with no questions for the third year in a row.

The 20 minutes of Seek exchanges panned out as follows – although this is paraphrased as it's hard to take comprehensive notes standing at the microphone:

Crikey: Why did Yahoo dump its Seek stake? Wouldn't they make a great partner?

James Packer: You'll have to ask them. Maybe 6% wasn't meaningful enough. They did very well.

Crikey: Good to see you're getting paid for your efforts, unlike your dad's mean approach at PBL. What's the full year whack for you and the other directors?

James Packer:
I'll be getting $80,000, although that goes straight to PBL and the other directors will get $50,000.

Crikey: You're the busiest director in Australia being executive chairman of PBL, chairman of Seek and a director of Qantas and Challenger. Why not give the chair to someone else, such as fellow PBL representative Chris Anderson.

James Packer: I was honoured and flattered when the other directors asked me to be chairman. I'm not sure I am the most appropriate person. Some of our old directors like Bob Watson probably would have done a better job. (And I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think the rest of the team were capable of doing 150% of the work so I didn't have to do anything.)

Crikey: Why didn't Seek make the recent investment? Isn't there a potential conflict with News Ltd and PBL talking about teaming up to corner the online car classified markets at the same time as Seek is trying to cut News Ltd's lunch in the jobs market.

James Packer: The Seek directors actually introduced PBL to the carsales people to make the investment. So there. ("That's a good answer," came the reply.)

Crikey: That leaked Fairfax document at the time of the float suggested newspaper-online hybrids are the way of the future in the US. What's your response?

Paul Bassatt: Did read the document but US pure play remains number one ahead of the second placed which is owned by three newspaper groups. US online market share is at 22% whereas Australia is about 18 months behind at 15%.

Crikey: Co-founder Andrew Bassatt sold $15 million shares into the Seek float. Is he a long term holder of his remaining $35 million worth of shares?

Andrew Bassatt: Will be brief as don't like the sound of my own voice. Escrow restricts selling until next year and have no current intention of selling beyond that period either.

Crikey: Co-founder Matthew Rockman sold $22 million shares into the float and his dad has been selling recently. What's the story with the family's long term commitment?

Matthew Rockman: Irvin can speak for himself but I have no present intention of selling any more shares and think Seek is a good investment.

As he lavished praise on everyone, James Packer said Irvin "is a fantastic guy" and "we should all be very grateful" so "good luck to him" about those profits on selling. The management team has done "an amazing job", it has been "a real delight" to work with new director Colin Carter in recent months and fellow new director Neil Chatfield has been "a terrific asset".

Staying with the love-in spirit Crikey told James not to step down as chairman any time soon because it is "a real thrill to ask you questions".

Even the mother of the Bassatt boys said hello after the meeting and chatted about her high-achieving but very modest sons

James clearly takes a more relaxed approach than his father as he even allowed two newspaper photographers, both from News Ltd, and a crew from the ABC's Inside Business to attend the meeting.

The Age was pathetically missing in action and The AFR wrote their Seek story out of Sydney, based on the speech given by CEO Paul Bassatt. The Herald Sun actually reported some of what happened at the meeting, as you can see here.