Australia’s richest man Frank Lowy will step down as executive chairman of Westfield Group and hand day to day control of the company he founded in 1959 to his sons.
Frank Lowy, 80, will become non-executive chairman, while Peter and Steven Lowy will become joint chief executive officers, the Sydney-based shopping mall developer said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange today.
“Frank Lowy’s contribution to the company has obviously been huge,” said Will Seddon, who helps manage $350 million at White Funds Management Pty in Sydney. “He has built a very successful company on a global scale. I wouldn’t expect the announcement to mark any major change to their strategy. It’s probably more of a reflection of the stage of life he is at.”
The move to change Peter and Steven Lowy’s current position of co-managing directors follows the company’s creation of a new listed property trust that jointly invests in Westfield’s Australian and New Zealand shopping centers. It comes as the company seeks further joint ventures for its U.S. and U.K. operations.
A shareholder who invested A$1,000 in Westfield in 1960, when the company listed, and reinvested all dividends and bonus issues, would have made about A$159 million ($161 million) by 2009, according to Westfield’s website.
Westfield Group shares today fell 0.7 percent to A$9.57 at the 4:10 p.m. close of trading in Sydney. Westfield Retail Trust added 1.1 percent to A$2.70.
In other changes, Chief Financial Officer Peter Allen will stand for election as a director. David Lowy, Frank’s oldest son, and director David Gonski won’t seek re-election to the board, and Brian Schwartz, a director since May 2009, will replace David Lowy as deputy chairman.
“The time is right for these moves,” Frank Lowy, who founded the first Westfield center in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown in 1959 with fellow Hungarian immigrant John Saunders, said in the statement. “I am healthy and committed and I will continue to contribute to the group which has been my life for more than 50 years.”
Frank Lowy emigrated to Australia in 1952 after fleeing the Nazis in Hungary and fighting as a commando in Palestine. He built up Westfield into the world’s biggest shopping center operator by assets with 119 properties in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and U.K.
Peter Lowy, Frank’s second son, has been at the company for 28 years, starting as assistant treasurer in 1983. Steven, the youngest, began his career at Westfield as manager of the Garden State Plaza shopping center in New Jersey in 1987, after a stint as an analyst at First Boston Corp. in New York. First Boston merged with Credit Suisse AG in 1988.
David Lowy will continue as chief executive of LFG Holdings, a private business group owned by the Lowys. All the changes will take effect at the annual general meeting to be held on May 25, the company said today.
Frank Lowy topped BRW Magazine’s Australian rich list for the first time last year, with a personal fortune estimated at A$5.04 billion, according to the annual ranking of the nation’s wealthiest people published in May. Lowy will continue in his current role as chairman of the Football Federation Australia, the governing body for soccer in the country, and the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a Sydney-based think tank established in 2003.
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