Board shake-up at Dan Murphy’s owner after brawl with pubs billionaire Bruce Mathieson

The chair of drinks giant Endeavour Group, Peter Hearl, will step down after a prolonged public spat with billionaire pub baron and largest shareholder Bruce Mathieson over the future of the business amid a plunging share price. As part of the board shake-up, Mathieson’s son, Bruce Mathieson jnr, will also step down.

In an announcement to the ASX on Wednesday, the pubs and liquor juggernaut announced the selection of two new board members – Peter Margin as an independent non-executive director and Ari Mervis as the new chair – along with plans for an “orderly succession” of the role.

Endeavour chair Peter Hearl will step down from the company.
Endeavour chair Peter Hearl will step down from the company.Credit: Oscar Coleman

Endeavour Group owns the Dan Murphy’s liquor chain, BWS, and 354 hotels.

The move follows a fracture between Endeavour’s board, including chair Peter Hearl, and the company’s founders Mathieson snr, Roger Corbett and Bill Wavish, who built the company into the world’s largest poker machine operator.

At the company’s annual meeting in October, Mathieson snr, the company’s largest shareholder, with a 15.1 per cent stake, threatened to call for an extraordinary general meeting if Hearl continued to resist calls to resign after retail veteran Wavish failed in his bid to join the board.

Wavish, in running for the position, had said “urgent action must be taken to address a period of material mismanagement and gross underperformance” at the company: a sentiment shared by Mathieson snr. The majority (72.3 per cent) rejected Wavish’s election to the board and 12.7 per cent voted against the re-election of Mathieson Jnr.

The company’s underperformance is a point which both Mathieson snr’s troika and Endeavour’s board have agreed on. Shares in the company have dropped 35 per cent from their peak of $8.32 in August 2022, but traded 2.7 per cent higher on Wednesday following Endeavour’s announcement.

In the announcement, Endeavour said Hearl would retire once Mervis, who is chairman of Myer and McPherson’s, had obtained the necessary regulatory approvals, with the transition anticipated by the end of April.

Billionaire Bruce Mathieson snr has led a campaign against Endeavour Group chairman Peter Hearl.
Billionaire Bruce Mathieson snr has led a campaign against Endeavour Group chairman Peter Hearl.Credit: Arsineh Houspian

Margin, who is non-executive director of Costa Group, deputy chair of Bega Cheese and chair of Golf Australia, will also join the board, completing the first phase of Endeavour’s board renewal process. Endeavour will also extend a board seat to a Bruce Mathieson Group representative on the condition that they maintain a shareholding in line with current levels.

Hearl, who has been Endeavour’s inaugural chair since 2021 after the company’s demerger from Woolworths, said Endeavour’s management could remain focused on strengthening the business through a smooth transition.

“As Endeavour moves into its next phase post demerger and in line with orderly board succession and renewal planning, the board and I firmly believe now is the right time to commence a transition to a new chairman,” he said. “I acknowledge Bruce junior’s contribution to the business and thank him for his commitment.”

Mathieson jnr’s resignation will take effect on June 30, or at an earlier date agreed between him and the board, according to Endeavour’s announcement.

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