Billionaire Cannon-Brookes Backed to Overhaul AGL’s Board

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Billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes had four nominees appointed to the board of utility AGL Energy Ltd., boosting his ability to pressure one of Australia’s top polluters into a faster shift away from fossil fuels.

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(Bloomberg) — Billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes had four nominees appointed to the board of utility AGL Energy Ltd., boosting his ability to pressure one of Australia’s top polluters into a faster shift away from fossil fuels.

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Investors voted in favor of all candidates proposed by the Atlassian Corp. co-founder’s Grok Ventures, three of whom had been opposed by the Sydney-based company’s existing directors. Holders also approved new plans to exit coal power by 2035 — a decade earlier than previously proposed — prompted by the climate activist’s pressure.

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The appointments add further drama to a months-long struggle over strategy at Australia’s largest emitter of Scope 1 greenhouse gases after a takeover attempt by Cannon-Brookes and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. was rebuffed, plans for a demerger were abandoned and key managers exited, including the chief executive officer and chairman. 

“The board of an Australian-listed company has been transformed by shareholders over its handling of climate risks,” Brynn O’Brien, executive director of advocacy group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said in a statement. “This is both a victory for shareholders and a scathing indictment on those who spent years destroying shareholder value by delaying the inevitable in the face of an escalating energy transition.”

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AGL had supported the billionaire’s nomination of Mark Twidell, a former Tesla Inc. energy executive, though advised holders to reject former Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott, CSR Ltd. director Christine Holman and ex-Pacific Brands Ltd. Chief Executive Officer John Pollaers. 

Votes cast in advance of an annual meeting Tuesday were sufficient to ensure all four nominees would be elected, AGL’s chair Patricia McKenzie told investors. 

“AGL can make a material difference in reducing the nation’s carbon footprint,” and has acted on feedback from investors to revise its plans, McKenzie told the meeting. While the utility is Australia’s largest carbon emitter, the company is also its top private investor in renewable energy and operates one of the biggest portfolios of renewable and battery assets, she said.

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Cannon-Brookes, one of Australia’s richest people, became the 185-year-old utility’s top shareholder in May and has argued that setting an earlier date to shutter coal plants would encourage additional investments in clean-energy projects and also help bolster profitability. 

Smart money is following “an absolute wall of opportunity” in the energy sector and companies that curb emissions faster and likely to unlock value, Brookfield vice chair Mark Carney said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week. The fund is leading an A$18.4 billion ($12.3 billion) offer to acquire AGL’s rival utility Origin Energy Ltd. and ramp up investments in renewables.

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