Pokies confessions at Foster's in 1998

By Stephen Mayne
January 17, 2008

The following two stories were published in The Daily Telegraph the day after the 1998 Foster's AGM.

Brewer has the drop on pokies

Foster's finally proudly declared to shareholders yesterday it was the country's largest pokies operator, with more than 5000 machines.

Chief executive Ted Kunkel said Foster's was determined to become Australia's leading leisure and entertainment company, in addition to now being the biggest brewer and second biggest wine producer.

Despite its keen interest in gaming, chairman John Ralph said Foster's had no plans to buy any distressed casinos in places such as Cairns, Canberra or Adelaide.

Foster's promised the meeting to tell me, as a shareholder, what its daily poker machine revenue is after no-one on the board could answer the question at the meeting.

However, it was still looking for the figure last night and undertook to reveal it today. Players at Crown lost $246 a day on each of its 2500 machines in the September quarter and Star City earned $263. Foster's built up its pokies business by taking over Ballarat Brewing and the Austotel group over the past two years.

Foster's thwarted as former executives defeat buy-back plan

Foster's Brewing has scrapped a controversial plan to compulsorily buy-back $41 million worth of partly paid shares, because of objections from some high profile former directors and executives.

"I don't think it's fair for me to give names," said chairman John Ralph after the annual meeting yesterday.

He ruled out any involvement by former chairman and chief executive John Elliott, who made more than $30 million in profits from the 1c paid share schemes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And he said no existing executives were involved. So, speculation centred around other former executives such as Peter Scanlon, Ken Jarrett, Peter Bartels, Michael Nugent and Geoff Lord.

Mr Ralph said the share proposal would have cleaned up "what is basically a nuisance and hangover from the past". But representatives of more than half the number of shares involved had approached the company, saying the buyback was unfair and they would be disadvantaged.

"A time consuming dispute which may well involve lengthy and unacceptable delays would not be in the best interests of the company," he said.

Mr Ralph said the company would now work on a modified proposal for a selective buy-back and denied any explicit legal threat had been made.

Shareholders narrowly approved a new executive share scheme after spirited opposition from the Australian Shareholders Association on the basis it was too complex and too generous.

The ASA also asked whether Mr Ralph could give sufficient commitment to his chairmanship of Foster's since he also chaired Pacific Dunlop, was deputy chairman of Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank and sat on the boards of BHP and Pioneer.

Mr Ralph said he did not believe he was shirking his responsibilities and would probably be working 70 to 80 hours a week to fulfil his responsibilities, particularly given his latest role leading the task force into reform of business taxes.

The former long serving CRA chief executive challenged his critics to ask the chairman of other boards he sits on about his performance.

"I would be very disappointed if you did not get a very satisfactory response," he said to strong applause from the 630 shareholders present.