Comment - Analysts Ire at New Treasury Wine Estates Head Masks Real Target
TWE reported weak H1 numbers yesterday
When Michael Clarke makes the move from London to Sydney for Treasury Wine Estates at the end of next month, he may want to consider packing a flak jacket.
Yesterday's reaction to his appointment as the wine company's new CEO was fierce, and the former Coca-Cola Co and Kraft Food executive immediately came under fire for his perceived lack of experience in the alcohol - and, more specifically, the wine - industry.
Analysts on a call with TWE management poured scorn on a resume that includes running Coca-Cola's South Pacific & Korea unit and Kraft's European business. These are no agricultural businesses, one analyst mocked. “Kraft doesn't exactly milk cows.”
But, if it seems slightly unfair of analysts to question the credentials of a seasoned executive who appears to have made a success of every job he's had, then that's because Clarke is not the real target of their ire. Step forward TWE chairman Paul Rayner.
When he starts on 31 March, Clarke will arrive untainted by the recent problems at TWE that peaked with a humiliating AUD160m (US$145.7m) stock writedown in the US last year.
That mini-disaster resulted in the departure of previous CEO David Dearie and a degree of managerial trimming.
Rayner, on the other hand, presided over the episode, and remains firmly in place on the board. In the eyes of some investors, this taints every decision he makes, including the appointment of Clarke.
They also believe he exerts undue influence over TWE, something that was pointed out to him by one of the angry analysts, according to industry website The Shout.
Rayner rejected the accusation, adding that he “spends no more or less time in this company now than I did under the previous management”.
This was quickly picked up by a second analyst, who said investors had lost confidence in the board.
“You just said yourself, you’re not spending more time on this company than previously,” the analyst said. “Maybe you should be and maybe we need a bit of a board shuffle.”
It is understandable that analysts are unnerved by the recent goings on at TWE. They are, after all, major stakeholders in the company, and were seriously spooked by yesterday's disappointing first-half numbers.
But, it means that Clarke's tenure will be even more closely scrutinised than usual, and his first few months in the job will be crucial for investors keen for a firm hand.
There will be no honeymoon period for this new manager.
One thing going TWE's way is that Clarke shares a name with Australia's Ashes winning cricket captain, who currently has hero status in the country after defeating England. That may not sound like much, but with TWE still struggling in the financial woods, the company will likely need all the help it can get.
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