Mathieson says Endeavour board an ‘insiders club’

September 29, 2023
By Melissa Parker

Endeavour’s primary shareholder, billionaire Bruce Mathieson, has voiced strong criticism against the hotels and liquor retailing group, characterizing efforts to obstruct the election of an experienced businessman he supports as “a cynical attempt to… entrench the insiders club on the… board.”

In a rapidly deteriorating dispute, Mathieson penned a letter to the Endeavour board, expressing concern about the “significant value erosion” and asserting that the strategic positioning of Dan Murphy’s and BWS, both owned by the company, had been “strategically compromised.”

Mathieson, whose son Bruce Mathieson Jr. is a member of the Endeavour board, is endorsing the candidacy of former Myer chairman Bill Wavish at the upcoming annual meeting. However, Endeavour’s chairman, Peter Hearl, declined to support his election, citing insufficient time to conduct the “usual processes it employs in selecting and appointing directors, including associated integrity assessments.”

Mathieson, in his letter, labelled the decision “preposterous,” asserting that it was unreasonable not to allow shareholders to vote for Wavish if he had not secured the necessary approvals by the time of the AGM. He wrote, “There is no practical chance that anyone could obtain all required regulatory clearances in such a short timeframe,” further describing this approach as a “cynical attempt to further solidify the insiders’ club on the Endeavour board.”

In his letter to Hearl, Mathieson also pointed out that other directors, including Rod van Onselen, Anne Brennan, and Bruce Mathieson Jr., had been elected contingent on obtaining all necessary approvals. He expressed deep concern about the present and future strategic and operational priorities of the business, as well as the current leadership’s ability to reverse unfavourable trends.

Bill Wavish, a former Woolworths executive, has garnered support from Roger Corbett, the former long-time CEO of the supermarket giant that once owned Endeavour. Corbett criticized the performance of Dan Murphy’s and BWS, stating that they had “lost the mojo.”

Nonetheless, there are voices in support of Endeavour’s current leadership. Tony Leon, who oversaw Dan Murphy’s until its sale to Woolworths in 1998, praised Endeavour’s CEO, Steve Donohue, as the best individual to operate the business, citing his extensive knowledge. Leon defended the business’s performance, emphasizing its success in the hands of the current management.

In a notice of meeting released on Wednesday, Mr. Hearl stated that Mr. Wavish had been invited to participate in the formal director search process but declined. The invitation remains open for Mr. Wavish to join the process.

Wavish was closely involved in Woolworths’ liquor and hotel divisions during his tenure with the company. He highlighted his experience in leading the reorganization of a segment of the business into BWS and the acquisition of numerous liquor licenses.

After acquiring Dan Murphy’s, Woolworths entered into a partnership with the Mathieson family, leading to the creation of Australian Leisure and Hospitality, a precursor to Endeavour. The company was listed on the ASX at $6.60 per share but has seen a 25 per cent decline in its share price over the past year, closing at $5.27.

Share the content