James Packer earns plaudits for honesty about mental health struggle

Billionaire Australian tycoon James Packer – son of the late Kerry – was congratulated for his honesty after resigning his directorship of the Crown Resorts casino empire to look after his mental health. In a statement from Packer’s investment firm Consolidated Press Holdings, a spokesman said: “Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments.” Packer’s open, unvarnished approach to announcing the reason behind his departure has met with acclaim from media outlets and public figures alike. The Australian Financial Review, for example, published an opinion column titled: ‘Business must use James Packer’s bravery to put mental health on the table’.

Meanwhile, former federal MP and cabinet minister Andrew Robb – who has himself suffered from depression – wrote in a piece for the Australian Daily Telegraph [members’ paywall]: “I know what it’s like to deal with mental health issues and a public profile … The first things I felt when I saw the news about James Packer [were] sadness, but also gratitude. It’s very courageous for someone in his position to open up about his mental health, and to admit to the problems that he’s dealing with publicly is an act of great courage and … generosity to so many.”


Data controversy plunges Facebook chiefs into trust storm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have issued apologies to the social network’s clientele, amid a damaging week of revelations about the abuse of users’ personal data. Following an investigation by The New York Times, The Guardian and Channel 4 News, it emerged that political research firm Cambridge Analytica had banked details from around 50 million Facebook users’ profiles, which had been accessed via a personality quiz set up five years ago by academic Aleksandr Kogan.

In a statement, Zuckerberg explains that, when an earlier Guardian investigation had uncovered the transfer of data between Kogan and Cambridge Analytica, the network had instructed the latter not only to delete the material, but provide certification confirming it had done so. However, the Facebook boss notes, the new media probe suggests that the researchers “may not have deleted the data as they had certified”.

Zuckerberg wrote: “This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.” Echoing Zuckerberg’s words, Sandberg described the data misuse as “a major violation of people’s trust”, adding: “I deeply regret that we didn’t do enough to deal with it. We have a responsibility to protect your data – and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.”

The apologies have cut no ice with Bloomberg Businessweek, which accused Facebook of “playing the victim”.


Government mulls sweeping new powers to crack down on lax corporate governance

A government consultation launched on 20 March proposes the introduction of sweeping new powers to tackle poor governance practices amid corporate insolvencies. Available for download at this webpage, the paper suggests that regulators should be able to i) claw back money for creditors – including workers and small suppliers – by reversing improper asset stripping of firms on the verge of ruin, and ii) disqualify, and/or hold personally liable, directors who are found to have sold a struggling firm or subsidiary in reckless circumstances, or in the full knowledge that it would fail. The paper also proposes that the Insolvency Service should be granted new powers to investigate dissolved firms’ directors.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “These reforms will give the regulatory authorities much stronger powers to come down hard on abuse and to make irresponsible directors bear the consequences of their actions.” Media outlets have greeted the consultation as a direct response to the Bhs and Carillion scandals.


Blockbuster pay deals stun business community

At the tail end of last week, it emerged from financial filings reported by Bloomberg that Pfizer CEO Ian Read bagged a 61% pay rise last year – bumping his salary up to $27.9 million – plus an $8m special-equity award. The catch? From 15 December 2017 to 3 January this year, Read’s firm raised prices on 116 different drug products by margins between 3% and 9.5%. As we moved into the beginning of this week, housebuilder Persimmon announced that it had paid three directors a total of £104m over last year.

But all of those deals paled into insignificance when Tesla revealed that shareholders had voted to approve a $55.8 billion bonus package for chief executive Elon Musk, on the condition that he transforms the company into a $650bn behemoth over the next 10 years. In comments to the Reuters news agency, responsible investment and corporate governance specialists Institutional Shareholder Services raised concerns that Musk’s deal “locks in unprecedented high-pay opportunities for the next decade, and seemingly limits the board’s ability to meaningfully adjust future pay levels in the event of unforeseen events or changes in either performance or strategic focus”.


Female-led Channel 4 admits to almost 30% gender pay gap

Boosting the number of women in higher-paid roles is just one strategy that Channel 4 is considering as a means of closing its yawning gender pay gap. A 19 March report put the broadcaster’s mean pay differential between male and female staff at 28.6%. In her foreword to the report, boss Alex Mahon said: “I’m proud to be Channel 4’s first female chief executive, and to lead an organisation that employs more women than men and a greater proportion of women than other public service broadcasters.” However, she conceded, the gap “obviously makes for uncomfortable reading, and I am determined to take action to address it. There is no quick fix, but identifying the complex and multiple reasons behind our gap is the first step towards tackling the fundamental issues at play.”

Mahon added: “It would be perverse for us to reduce the number of women in lower-paid roles, and we want to continue to be an attractive place for women to work. Instead, we must reduce the gap by focusing on increasing the proportion of women in higher-paid roles. In this report, we are setting out the strategy to achieve that, with a goal of a 50:50 gender balance in the top 100 earners by 2023.” Read the full report here.

Image of James Packer courtesy of Debby Wong, via Shutterstock