UPROAR in the Australian Wool Innovation 2017 director election escalated today with claims the proposed Wool Exchange Portal has been politicised and put at risk by the actions of AWI chairman Wal Merriman and board candidate Will Wilson.
New South Wales wool grower and former WEP working group member Ed Storey said at least two AWI directors did not know WEP committee chairman Will Wilson, a paid consultant, was seeking an AWI board nomination when final funding for the portal was approved by the AWI board on September 1.
“I believe this had the potential to cast a shadow around the board’s decision to fund the WEP and created a significant liability risk for AWI and its shareholders,” Mr Storey said in an open letter to AWI shareholders today.
Mr Storey is a 4th generation wool grower at Yass and is also senior vice president of WoolProducers Australia. He said Mr Wilson asked for his signature in support of the WEP leader’s nomination for an AWI board seat on August 22. The wool grower declined to sign Mr Wilson’s nomination form and then resigned from the WEP group on September 8. AWI board nominees need the supporting signatures of 100 registered AWI shareholders to present a valid nomination application.
Mr Wilson has told Sheep Central he was “pretty sure” he had alerted the AWI company secretary Jim Story in late August that he intended to nominate for the AWI board, but could not remember exactly when. However, Mr Storey believes Mr Wilson should have notified the AWI board of his intentions well before he sought his first signature, to give the AWI board the opportunity to decide if he should continue in the paid position given the risks it presented to the WEP.
“This raises potential serious concerns about AWI board governance.”
Mr Storey said Mr Merriman’s statement last week lauding Mr Wilson’s exemplary work in bringing the WEP from concept to reality “where brokers, buyers and growers unanimous agree that it proceed” has politicised the WEP and put its future at risk. In response to Mr Merriman’s statement, Australia’s peak wool broker and exporters bodies have refuted that their members unaminously agree the WEP should proceed. This also follows the recent breakdown in negotiation between AWEX and AWI on the exchange of data, which Mr Storey believes places the WEP “at serious risk.”
“And the risk has been increased by Will standing for the board, because it has made it a political topic in this debate and I think it has put the board in a difficult position.
“Will did a good job on the working group up until he decided to run for the board.”
Mr Storey believes the “heightened election commentary” from some current AWI directors, designed to lobby for Mr Wilson’s nomination has further increased the risk to the WEP.
Brokers and exporters were ‘key’ to WEP success
Mr Storey still believes the WEP in the long run can provide opportunities for growers, but brokers and exporters were “key” to its success.
“In the end it might come to something, but this has increased the risk and Wal’s letter has become the issue … his lobbying efforts to put Will Wilson on the board has increased the threats to the success of the WEP.”
AWI has not answered recent Sheep Central questions on the state of the WEP project, but in comments supporting his AWI board election Mr Wilson has told Sheep Central it is on track to deliver meaningful benefits to wool growers by delivering them a broad range of industry information — data, research and selling options — electronically, allowing them to make more informed decisions regarding the sale of their wool.
“In addition to the direct benefits to wool growers, I believe that a fully functional WEP will provide a platform upon which the industry can leverage future technological advancements,” he said.
Mr Storey agreed with a recent statement by fellow former WEP working group member and wool grower Rob Lawrance that at a WEP meeting held earlier this year, prior to submission to the AWI board, there was unanimous support from group members for the WEP to proceed, with no votes against or abstentions. The meeting participants included members of AWEX, as well as brokers, exporters, growers and the AWTA.
However, Mr Storey said this did not mean the working group members had voted on behalf of their industry sector.
“I never claim to represent every grower in the country.”
Five candidates will contest three vacant positions on the AWI board, with three incumbent directors standing for re-election: Colette Garnsey, Paul Cocking and James Morgan. External candidate Don MacDonald and Will Wilson have also successfully nominated for the positions. In voting papers sent to AWI shareholders, AWI’s board nomination committee has said the 2017 candidates are collectively of a high standard, and capable of making a contribution to the skills of the board in one or more areas. The committee has recommended Colette Garnsey, James Morgan and Will Wilson to shareholders on the basis that they are the candidates who, if accepted, would result in the board having “the best balance of director competencies”.
WEP consultant says AWI candidacy does not affect project
Wool Exchange Portal consultant Will Wilson said he totally disagrees with the assertion that his nomination as a candidate for the AWI board in any way affects the standing of the WEP project.
“The project is much larger than me and the WEP will stand on its own merit as a tool that should enable wool growers to make more informed decisions regarding the selling of their wool.
“It also aims to deliver a platform upon which the wool industry may take advantage of digital developments of the future,” he said..
Mr Wilson said the WEP project and its precursor, the Wool Selling System Review (WSSR) were highly consultative in approach.
“I believe that some recent remarks regarding industry support for the project require some clarification; the Wool Exchange Portal project received unanimous support from the industry representatives on the Wool Exchange Portal Working Group.
“I believe that my work on these important industry projects, adds to my skillset as a potential AWI board member,” Mr Wilson said.
Mr Wilson said prior to gathering signatures to support his nomination as a potential candidate for an AWI board position he contacted AWI company secretary, Jim Story, to get information relating to the processes involved in nominating and copies of the forms required for recording signatures.
“I understand that it is AWI policy to provide assistance to anyone who seeks nomination for a position on the board. I believe that this was sometime around the 20 August.”
Mr Wilson said it was during a working dinner on August 21 that he informed his wool grower colleagues (including Ed Storey) on the Wool Exchange Portal Steering Committee of his intention to gather eligible wool grower signatures in preparation for nominating for a seat on the AWI board.
“I believe that it was at this time I also asked for their support in the form of their signatures to support my nomination.
“This was followed up on the following day with an email, including a letter outlining my reasons for standing,” he said.
Mr Wilson said on September 17 he received word from the AWI company secretary that he had received the requisite number of eligible shareholder/wool grower signatures, signifying that he was formally a candidate for the upcoming AWI board elections.
Click here to read Mr Storey’s letter.
Click here to read Sheep Central’s earlier story on Mr Wilson’s AWI nomination.
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