Mike Cannon-Brookes just had a massive win in his battle for the soul of energy giant AGL

- November 15, 2022 2 MIN READ
Mike Cannon-Brookes during his campaign against the AGL demerger
Renewable energy activist Mike Cannon-Brookes has succeeded in his campaign to shake up the board of energy giant AGL with shareholders voting at today’s annual general meeting to appointment four new directors to the AGL board on the recommendation of the Atlassian cofounder’s family VC firm, Grok Ventures.

Former Energy Security board chair Kerry Schott, former Tesla Energy director Mark Twidell, Swinburne University chancellor John Pollaers, and CSR director Christine Holman where all back in a majority vote as independent directos, with Twidell the only one to receive board endorsement.

Shareholders also gave the company a “first strike” warning vote against the company’s remuneration report.

It’s the latest win for Cannon-Brookes since his campaign to accelerate AGL’s shift to renewables began in February with an initial $5 billion takeover bid for Australia’s biggest carbon emitter.

After two takeover offers were rejected, Cannon-Brookes spent $650 million to acquire an 11% stake in AGL through Grok Ventures, and then began an ultimately successful campaign against AGL’s demerger plan.

AGL chairman, Peter Botten, and CEO, Graeme Hunt, resigned as a consequence, along with a number of other directors, when the demerger was abandoned.

Today’s board shakeup also puts a cloud over the ongoing tenure of new chair Patricia McKenzie, who is also chair of NSW Ports and the Sydney Desalination Plant Group.

The company had opposed the nominations of Schott, Pollares and Holman on the grounds that they lacked the “additional experience and skills necessary to ensure the successful implementation of the board’s strategy”.

In response to today’s vote, McKenzie said: “The board welcomes these new directors to the board and will work constructively with them in the best of interests of shareholders”.

Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director, The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), said today’s vote made history with shareholders sending a clear signal to Australian listed companies on handling climate risk.

“This is both a victory for shareholders and a scathing indictment on those who spent years destroying shareholder value by delaying the inevitable in the face of an escalating energy transition. It is vital that lessons are learned from AGL’s colossal waste of time and shareholder funds,” he said

“The boards of other high-emitting companies should be taking note of today’s outcome: climate risk management is an ever increasing pressure and those who remain flat-footed in the face of rapidly shifting market dynamics will be held to account.”

O’Brien’s assessment of the new chair was scathing, saying McKenzie, an AGL director for three years, “has taken the wrong turn” since her appointment.

“Patricia McKenzie should be held accountable for her poor judgment since assuming the role of Chair. From her adversarial relationship with AGL’s largest shareholder to her dismissive attitude towards the skills and expertise of independent director candidates who shareholders have now roundly endorsed,” he said.

“The first strike AGL received on remuneration also demonstrates the Chair’s misreading of the expectations of large shareholders.

The next immediate challenge AGL faces before grappling with its energy transition is to find a new CEO to replace Hunt.