Stiassny lashes regulators, fellow Vector directors, Entrust board – and Rocket Lab – at final AGM

By Nikki Mandow

Nov. 12 (BusinessDesk) – Outgoing Vector chairman Michael Stiassny has delivered a no-holds-barred speech at his last AGM with the electricity lines company, including accusing Vector’s majority shareholder of a personal vendetta against him and anyone associated with him.

In the closing minutes of the meeting, in front of a packed house at Auckland’s Eden Park, Stiassny laid into the Commerce Commission, electricity regulators, Vector’s 75.1 percent owner Entrust, “self-interested” fellow directors and, more surprisingly, start-up Rocket Lab.

Stiassny, the controversial former insolvency expert who joined the Vector board in 2002 and has come in for his fair share of criticism in the last few months, announced in May he wouldn’t be standing again, having been effectively ousted by Entrust.

Two other directors, Sibylle Krieger and David Bartholomew, announced last Friday they were also not seeking re-election for the same reason – Entrust antipathy. This, combined with the resignation of a fourth director last week, after he failed to win a seat on the Entrust board, leaves Vector potentially four directors short.

Stiassny said he was “deeply saddened” by the resignations of Krieger and Bartholomew, both of whom only joined the board this year.

“They were recruited after an exhaustive process. They have significant experience and international knowledge. Their short tenure has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with a personal vendetta to do with me and anyone to do with me.

“This is a significant loss and not in Vector’s best interest.”

Stiassny, who is also chair of Tower and public sector transport funder the New Zealand Transport Agency, and a director of several other companies, also attacked some of his fellow directors on the Vector board, accusing them of putting their own interests before those of the company.

Most of the directors, Stiassny included, have been on the Vector board for more than a decade. Alison Paterson, a good contender to replace Stiassny as chair, joined in 2007. Pitching for re-election, Paterson told the AGM she had also wanted to resign because of her length of tenure, but had been persuaded to stay after so many other people were ousted.

Meanwhile, Stiassny’s criticisms weren’t limited to his colleagues. He had strong words about the Commerce Commission and the legislative framework that Vector operates under, calling it “out of date and not fit for purpose”

Earlier this year the Commerce Commission, which regulates Vector, zapped the lines company with as-yet-undisclosed penalties for taking too long to fix power outages in 2015 and 2016. It also indicated it could well do the same for 2017 and 2018.

Stiassny argued outage times have been affected by worsening storms, increasing traffic problems in Auckland, and a focus on staff health and safety. This latter meant Vector didn’t send people to work on lines if there was any possibility they were live, a policy which could delay starting work on fixing problems.

But instead of being applauded for its approach with its workers, it was being penalised, Stiassny said.

“Vector has led health and safety initiatives, yet the Commerce Commission holds us to account for taking longer to fix the lines. It’s sad because we are doing the right thing for our people.”

There was no protest at the annual general meeting about Vector’s investment in the Israeli company which developed the software behind Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket defence system, despite a rival group that mounted a failed takeover bid for the Entrust board at last month’s community trust election seeking to make the investment a public issue.

In May last year Vector spent around US$10 million on a minority stake in mPrest, which is working on intelligent grid technology. However, the Green Party and others have accused Vector of investing in mPrest alongside an Israeli weapons manufacturer.

Instead, Stiassny went on the offensive at the AGM, favourably comparing Vector and its investments to start-up darling Rocket Lab, which has connections with Lockheed Martin, which proudly makes “a wide variety of highly effective and reliable weapons systems”.

“Under no circumstances while I’ve been at Vector would we tolerate [investing in a company which makes bombs],” Stiassny said. “MPrest makes defence systems, which don’t kill anyone.

Whereas Rocket Lab, which everyone loves, is owned by Lockheed, which make weapons which do kill people.”