Billionaire Stokes Stands by His Seven CEO as Ex-Lover Hits Outby
Tim Worner has ‘full confidence’ of Seven’s board, Stokes says
Worner’s former lover is attacking broadcaster via Twitter
Seven West Media Ltd.’s billionaire Chairman Kerry Stokes dismissed concerns of poor corporate governance and comprehensively backed Chief Executive Officer Tim Worner, whose extra-marital affair with a female colleague has plagued the broadcaster.
“Tim Worner continues to enjoy the full confidence of the board,” Stokes said on an earnings call with media and investors on Wednesday, the first time he’s addressed the issue publicly since Worner’s relationship with a former executive assistant was revealed in December.
Australia’s largest commercial broadcaster this month cleared Worner of wrongdoing after Amber Harrison, who no longer works for Seven, claimed he took illegal drugs and abused expenses during their affair more than two years ago.
“He’s doing an outstanding job,” Stokes said of Worner. “I’m very proud of where he’s taken Seven in the last two years. We appreciate a great deal the diligence he’s put in under the circumstances.”
Seven shares slumped 7 percent to 72.5 Australian cents at 12:41 p.m. in Sydney after the company said first-half profit plummeted. Underlying income, which excludes one-time items, fell 32 percent to A$95.7 million ($73 million).
Stokes and his directors have called Worner and Harrison’s relationship “inappropriate,” but a report into the affair commissioned by Seven hasn’t been made public. The Australian Shareholders’ Association wants it made available, while the Centre for Corporate Governance at the University of Technology Sydney has said the lack of disclosure raises transparency concerns.
“There has been no governance issue,” Stokes said. “The board will have no further inquiries.”
Seven independent director Jeff Kennett wrote in the Australian newspaper on Tuesday that the broadcaster has paid Harrison almost A$330,000 “as compensation for any damage” caused by the affair. Another A$50,000 went to her lawyers, he said.
Harrison has taken to Twitter to attack the board, publishing images of taxi receipts that she said proved Worner used his company credit card to pay for trips to her Sydney home for sex, and excerpts from her settlement with Seven. Seven said her claims couldn’t be substantiated.
“I have apologized for what did happen,” Worner said on the call. “And we don’t wish to give any more oxygen to what did not happen. It was very poor judgment, it’s something I continue to regret.”