Westpac’s outgoing chairman Lindsay Maxsted opened the bank’s day of reckoning with a 23 minute apology.
Without looking at notes, he recited his annual general meeting speech lodged minutes earlier with the stock exchange word for word. He stared down the critics, looking around the theatre packed with 500-odd shareholders on the foreshore of Sydney’s Darling Harbour.
“You believe in this company and we have let you down,” he said.
To his left was interim chief executive Peter King. This was supposed to be King’s final AGM before retiring at 49 years old. Instead, he wore a Westpac pin over his left breast and said he was honoured to be stepping up to the job, despite the circumstances.
“I am personally devastated by the allegations in Westpac’s statement of claim,” a tired and glassy-eyed King said.
We’re certainly not paying peanuts, and we’re still getting monkeys.Westpac shareholder
For the next five hours, questions were fielded by shareholders. Some heckled from the back row: “Asleep at the wheel!”
“Sack the board!”
“Just go Maxsted! Just go!”
To roaring applause, one man suggested a fund be set up to end child sex exploitation in Southeast Asia.
The chaos went on and the questions kept rolling: How could so many breaches have occurred for so long? Who is to blame? Will more heads roll? What has been learnt and what will change?
For five hours, Maxsted stood with his hands firmly planted on the podium. He only moved to steady his balance. Questions from shareholders were preceded by lengthy statements and some went nowhere at all.
Maxsted listened and thanked every shareholder for their question. He took the insults and stuck to the script. There is an investigation, he said, and we will learn from it. Westpac is a good bank, he promised, and this was a terrible mistake.
The shareholders were livid at the high pay packets the board and top executives would continue to receive.
“We’re certainly not paying peanuts, and we’re still getting monkeys,” one woman who did not want to share her name said outside the theatre.
Kym Killpatrick took a day off from her duties as a volunteer firefighter near her home on the mid-north coast to attend the meeting. Before retiring, she had worked in child protection for 37 years, 32 of those she spent working with children who had been abused.
“I try to live my life ethically. That’s reflected in my investments,” she said.
“I was horrified and gutted when I heard about the [scandal] because I know the impact of what child exploitation does to people,” she said.
Others focused on the money. One man, Harry Kritharis, held a document that he said showed he had lost $104,000 by the bank’s falling share price.
“What happened? They make mistakes. We pay the bill,” he said.
Others were less critical. Tony Rich has held shares since 1993 and worked in the bank before he retired.
“Today is blood letting. People need to vent.
“The chairman has been quite patient … You can talk about how much he’s getting paid but there’s no joy in doing this.”
In the end, some of Maxsted’s biggest critics were asking if the 65-year-old needed a sandwich. One man complimented his strong bladder.
Finally it got to voting. A second strike was handed down, and those that remained clapped.
Source: Thanks smh.com