Corporate Australia highlights for 2022

Earlier in the year, there were already signs of significant weakness in the sector as various cryptocurrency-vulnerable groups in the US – including Voyager Digital, Celsius, BlockFi – went bankrupt and the value of various digital assets, including Bitcoin, fell.

Whether crypto can pick up the pieces in 2023 remains to be seen, but with rising interest rates and the industry’s bad apples sustaining their comeuppance, the mystique of crypto could be gone forever.

Mike Cannon-Brookes celebrated an epic win over AGL in 2022.

Mike Cannon-Brookes celebrated an epic win over AGL in 2022. Credit:Oscar Colman

The Champions: Mike Cannon Brookes

The woolly billionaire, Atlassian founder and green energy advocate, notched an epic victory over AGL in November when he installed four new directors at the group after a year with the company over the timing of its plans to divest its fossil fuel assets fuels had argued.

Cannon-Brookes’ private investment vehicle Grok Ventures and Brookfield surprised AGL in February with an $8 billion bid for the group with plans to move the company off fossil fuels by closing its coal-fired power plants earlier than planned.

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AGL rejected both of the consortium’s offers. Instead, it pushed ahead with a plan to divest its generation arm from its retail business and bring forward the planned closure dates for its coal-fired power plants in NSW and Victoria.

It wasn’t enough to satisfy Grok, who in May took an 11.9 percent stake in AGL to force change at the energy company. Later that month, AGL scrapped its demerger plans, and in November, Grok led the board coup at AGL’s annual meeting that installed the new directors.

All in all, a memorable year for Cannon-Brookes, which has now established itself as a key player in steering Australia’s energy sector’s belated transition from dirty coal to renewables.

The Qantas boss may have flickered on social media over the school holidays, but he's also worked hard to keep the airline afloat during the tough years of the pandemic.

The Qantas boss may have flickered on social media over the school holidays, but he’s also worked hard to keep the airline afloat during the tough years of the pandemic. Credit:Bloomberg

Most Improved/Needs Improvement: Qantas CEO Alan Joyce

The national airline boss ended 2022 as the top flier compared to his global peers and the nation’s least popular executive during the school holidays.

Public reaction to the airline’s litany of delays, cancellations, call center waits and lost luggage has been so strong that the longtime airline boss’s surname has become a new word to describe a travel-wracked vacation – “Joyced”. (Used in one sentence: Our vacation was merry when our flights were canceled and we spent 12 hours on hold at a call center.)

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Adding to the rant with his off-the-cuff comments in April, Joyce said some of the airline’s problems stemmed from customers’ lack of “match fitness.”

But despite the backlash on social media, Qantas shareholders and its chairman Richard Goyder are grateful to have him on deck as pent-up consumer demand from two years of lockdown and careful capacity management has produced excellent results and a positive outlook. The group was also ahead of competitor Virgin in terms of sales and service.

The Deflated: Disruption Retailer, BNPL

The economic headwinds of 2022 have thwarted businesses that have been booming during the lockdown. Retailers, particularly those that sell highly discretionary products or only have online channels, have been hit the hardest.

Online beauty seller Adore Beauty and owner of skincare brand BWX fell out of favor with investors, suffering huge falls as they scaled back growth forecasts.

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Booktopia, which was listed in late 2020 on strong pandemic-led growth, was also hit hard for its downgrades. The online bookseller’s year took a turn for the worse after an investigation into this imprint resulted in the board suddenly firing founder Tony Nash, only for him to return to the role months later after forcing a board change that put him back in charge .

Buy now, pay later (BNPL) as a craze saw a major reality check in 2022, with operators like Zip and others suffering as rate hikes flipped the switch to groups offering interest-free products built on near-zero interest rates were prices.

The Unfortunate: The Chopped

Two large companies – Medibank and Optus – fell victim to hackers who stole customer data and demanded ransom payments to keep the information from being sold to scammers. When the ransoms were not paid, the impact of both hacks was severe.

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosemary said the cyberattack left her devastated and angry.

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosemary said the cyberattack left her devastated and angry.Credit:Dominik Lorrimer

Many Optus customers — both current and former — have been forced to order new driver’s licenses and passports, putting immense pressure on state and federal services, while Medibank hackers leaked confidential policyholder health information, breaking the news dragged on for weeks.

Optus, which unveiled its hack weeks before the Medibank glitch, and its local boss, Kelly Bayer Rosemary, earned a bigger premium for handling the hack from Cybersecurity Secretary Clare O’Neil, who berated the group for its weak defenses.

Meanwhile, Medibank and its boss David Koczkar were treated much more gently when it became clear that robust government shutdowns could only result in fewer groups reporting such incidents. The high-profile breaches have been accompanied by a series of cybersecurity incidents across Australian businesses, from food producer Costa Group and pathology service provider Medlab Pathology to children’s charity The Smith Family. Expect cybersecurity, after dominating the headlines, to remain a top priority for boards into the new year.

BHP CEO Mike Henry at the South Flank iron ore mine in the Pilbara.

BHP CEO Mike Henry at the South Flank iron ore mine in the Pilbara.Credit:

The historian: BHP leaves London

Mining giant BHP has performed a major reset this year, abandoning its dual listing structure for a single trading unit on the Australian Stock Exchange.

While the change was announced back in August 2021, it wasn’t until an investor vote in January this year that BHP got the green light from its shareholders to proceed with the change.

Also in June, the merger of BHP’s oil and gas business with Woodside Energy was formally completed after shareholders approved the transaction. This transaction enabled the world’s leading mining company to accelerate its transition away from fossil fuels and become a leaner and greener corporation.

BHP’s exuberance with its complex dual listing structure may not have been formed until 2001, but its preference for a solo register on the ASX over a double home here and in London marked a historic day for the group and the ASX.

https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/the-hapless-the-almost-reformed-and-mike-cannon-brookes-corporate-australia-s-highlights-for-2022-20221219-p5c7j6.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_business Corporate Australia highlights for 2022

Brian Lowry

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