Myer chair exits, blaming big shareholders

Steven DeareAAP
Myer chair Garry Hounsell has left his position, citing shareholder pressure.
Camera IconMyer chair Garry Hounsell has left his position, citing shareholder pressure.

Myer's struggle through the pandemic has continued after chair Garry Hounsell retired from the role and blamed the company's two largest shareholders for a lack of support.

Mr Hounsell, who has overseen the department store's struggle to keep pace with online shopping, chose not to seek re-election as chair or director at the company's annual general meeting on Thursday.

"It has become apparent that Myer's two largest shareholders are not supporting my re-election and I will not allow my ongoing tenure as chairman to be a distraction to the hard work of the executive team," he said.

Those shareholders are Premier Investments, chaired by Solomon Lew, and Wilson Asset Management, chaired by Geoff Wilson.

Mr Lew has been critical of management and has said suppliers are hesitant to do business with Myer, while Mr Wilson has called for fewer directors and reduced pay.

Myer last month reported a full-year loss of $172.4 million after sales fell more than 15 per cent from store closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Hounsell has been chair for three years and said the Myer business had strengthened, and its online business was one of the fastest growing in Australia.

A Premier Investments spokesman used a gardening analogy to describe Mr Hounsell's departure and said it was the green shoot shareholders had been waiting for.

Premier wanted the other directors to step down or face an extraordinary general meeting where they could be voted out, the spokesman said.

The company will consult other major shareholders to try and appoint a board with a majority of independent directors and an independent chair.

Representatives for Wilson Asset Management were unable to comment before publication.

Mr Hounsell has been temporarily replaced by acting chair JoAnne Stephenson.

She referred to the shareholders' criticisms and said Myer had the right management team and they needed to focus on trading.

"A war of words in the media is damaging for customers, damaging for the Myer brand, and therefore damaging for you, our shareholders," she told the meeting.

"What Myer needs now, more than ever, is stability."

Chief executive John King said the current strategy was the right one, but Myer needed to accelerate its rollout amid COVID-19.

He believed the company and its online channels were well-placed to thrive during the Christmas period.

Stores in central business districts, however, will be challenged by many people continuing to work from home.

Myer shares closed down 2.08 per cent to 23 cents.

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