Friday 16 November 2018

Smurfit AGM is a chance to get answers

Shane Ross

Shane Ross offers some questions for the doctor that should help liven up the Smurfit AGM, to be held this Friday

Shane Ross offers some questions for the doctor that should help liven up the Smurfit AGM, to be held this Friday

HAVE you noticed the slightly better performance in the Smurfit Group's share price in the last year? Well, if you are one of the 17,000 remaining believers, it is time for a minor celebration.

The Doctor (Michael Smurfit) says he is giving up the day job, while remaining as chairman. If you want to see the cardboard box king perform in person, go along to Dublin's Burlington Hotel at 11am this Friday.

The Smurfit AGM is often a stormy affair. Last year, we small shareholders managed to defeat Dermot Smurfit's re-election as a director on the floor. Then the proxies were called in to rescue the poor man. So Dr Dermot will still be on the podium on Friday, along with his brother, the overworked Dr Alan, the Dr Chairman and the Chairman's son not yet a doctor Tony. There is still plenty of scope for a few pertinent questions about how this company is operating.

The Smurfit share price has improved by 35 per cent over one year and by 28 per cent over six months. At the same time, the chairman has announced his intention to give up the job of chief executive. Are the two events related? Or is this a coincidence?

Gary McGann's arrival in the top spot has been generally welcomed by the stock market. Ask Mr McGann in what way does he hope to differ as a chief executive from his predecessor. And watch Michael Smurfit's face.

Is this a real retirement? Or will Michael still be pulling the strings? Ask the good doctor what duties he intends to discard now that he has stepped down. Will he still be on the telephone day and night, chewing the ear off his patient top executives?

Ray Curran, the talented chief executive of Smurfit Stone Corporation, left suddenly earlier this year with a going-away present of $11m. Please explain the circumstances of Ray's departure. Was there a row with other bosses at SSC?

Three weeks ago, the Sunday Independent reported that due diligence was being carried out in secret by a potential purchaser for Smurfit Stone. Has the Group finally decided that it will take the sale route?

Howard Kilroy, the keen golfer who retired from full-time employment in Smurfit seven years ago, is still on the board as a part-time director. But he still seems to be receiving full-time fees. In 2001 he was awarded ?40,000 in director's fees, but an additional ?127,000 as a consultant. What did this brilliant golfer do for Smurfit in 2001 to merit a reward of ?2,500 per week?

The Smurfit board only met four times last year. Does this suggest that it is merely a rubber stamp for the good doctor? This means that the part-time directors are paid over ?10,000 per meeting. How long do the meetings last so we can work out their pay on an hourly basis?

Why is the Smurfit Group facing so many lawsuits? There is a criminal prosecution pending in Spain. There are environmental actions taking place in South America and probably a host of others. Why are there no provisions in the accounts, just in case these suits are lost?

The Smurfit Group has guaranteed all liabilities of the lavish K-Club. Please give details of its financial health.

The chairman's pay package has fallen to only ?4.6m (from over ?6.6m in 2000). What sort of a package does he anticipate, now that his duties will be reduced to attending only four board meetings a year, like all the other directors?

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