“He was right, because many more Australians have got direct and indirect interests in corporations.
“But where he was wrong on that is that democracy usually gives you a vote – and the thing that’s been lost is the vote.”
Gonski says the big plus in having wider ownership of companies through super funds brings with it a challenge of how to keep people informed without the regular updates to the ASX under continuous disclosure rules.
Sydney Airport has continued to publish annual reports that are lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, but the level of information sharing is severely diminished.
Playing the long game
Gonski says the single biggest advantage of a private company compared with a public one is the ability of the board and management to think long-term.
He says his experience on the boards of Singapore Telecommunications and Singapore Airlines gave him a new perspective on strategic thinking at board level.
“Coming back from working with those Asian companies … I was stunned how short-term we were in our thinking.
“We had, in many of the companies I was involved in, dividend policies which often affected the long-term investment horizon of the company. But … companies in Asia, and often in America as well, don’t pay as big dividends and therefore can reinvest and build for the longer term.”
Sydney Airport’s move to appoint Gonski follows the decision by the Blackstone-owned Crown Resorts to Appoint Ian Silk chairman of Crown MelbourneJohn Borghetti chairman of Crown Sydney, and John Van Der Wielen chairman of Crown Perth.
Blackstone said these appointments were part of the transformation of Crown to “operate at the highest standards of compliance, governance, and integrity”.
Silk, Borghetti and Van Der Wielen are filling roles that are very different from the roles played by chairmen of public companies.
The chairman of a public company, for example, must primarily consider the interests of the shareholders, followed by the interests of other stakeholders.
It is arguable that Gonski at Sydney Airport and Silk, Borghetti and Van Der Wielen at Crown must consider the interests of all stakeholders ahead of the interests of the shareholders.
The chairman of the Crown Resorts head stock is Blackstone representative Bill McBeath.
The owners of Sydney Airport and Crown Resorts have taken a different approach compared with the owners of other high-profile, ASX-listed companies that have been taken private.
Electricity and gas network owner AusNet, which was bought by Sunsuper and four Canadian pension funds in October 2021does not have an independent chairman.
The chairman of Virgin Australia is Ryan Cotton, who works for Bain Capital, the private equity group that bought Virgin in September 2020.
The Japanese-owned Toll Holdings, which used to have an independent chairman in Ray Horsburgh, now has a former managing director, Thomas Knudsenfilling the chairman’s role.