Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey has a message for short seller: ‘Piss off!’

Gerry Harvey’s company has written off over half a billion dollars worth of loans to its franchisee network since 2011. Photo: Peter Rae Harvey Norman’s dividend was up by 77 per cent, or 3.5¢ a share. Photo: Josh Robenstone
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Gerry Harvey gave an emphatic rebuttal of allegations the retailer is not paying its fair share of taxes, and it is hiding problem loans as so-called “tactical support”. Photo: Ben Rushton

Sydney real estate agent John McGrath Photo: Edwina Pickles

Retail billionaire Gerry “Trump” Harvey has a message for the foreign short seller he blames for the “hearsay and rumours” that have recently plagued the company: “Piss off!”

The Harvey Norman executive chairman gave a voluble – rather than emphatic – rebuttal of allegations that the retailer’s financial relationship with its franchisees is not entirely transparent, and it is hiding problem loans as so-called “tactical support”.

“It has been started by a short seller … he’s been trying to disrupt our company,” he told a packed shareholder meeting at the Sydney Tattersalls club on Monday.

It was all kicked off by the retailer’s latest annual report, which contained the surprise that it has loans totalling $943 million to its franchisees and had written off $566 million of those loans – what it calls “tactical support” – since 2011.

He warned his audience that stooges for the short seller might ask questions at the meeting.

“If you are here, please get up and piss off!”

With regard to the allegations, Harvey said: “If you think that we are upset about it you’re absolutely right.”

Harvey managed to offer his usual advice to any investors who are queasy about his forays into unrelated businesses such as mining camp “dongles” and dairy – “they should sell their shares”.

This might explain why there do not appear to be any institutional investors on the Harvey Norman register. Trumped up

Nobody put up their hand and owned up to being a “stooge” for Harvey’s short seller – who might be based in Singapore.

But the ASA’s representative, Allan Goldin – who dared ask Harvey why he doesn’t privatise Harvey Norman if he is not prepared to run it as a public company – was a useful substitute.

“If you’re telling me I’m not looking after shareholders you’ve got a loose cog in your head,” Harvey told Goldin.

To which he later added: “I’ve answered your stupid questions.”

And as investors were voting on the remuneration report, Harvey added one final insult to the North American-born Goldin: “Did you vote for Donald Trump?” he asked.

Goldin is Canadian.

“I didn’t vote for Trudeau either,” replied Goldin. Boarding call

That “renovator’s delight” of the real estate sector – John McGrath’s McGrath Ltd – has parachuted in some fresh board members with the required skill set to patch up this IPO disaster.

The new bodies will help the company through a tough patch as another board member, Daniel Petre, bales out after the company’s AGM this month.

“I am very sorry to have to leave the McGrath board, but have to ensure I get back more time to focus on AirTree’s expansion,” Petre said of his expanding tech venture capital fund.

One of the new directors is Cath Rogers – one of Petre’s business partners at AirTree.

The other is Nigel Dews. He once ran Fairfax Media’s loss-making digital arm, F2, and went on to run Hutchison’s loss-making 3G mobile operator.

Dews survived the subsequent merger with Vodafone to become the local boss when it went through its Vodafail phase.

“Some of you have experienced dropped calls, delayed SMS and voicemails, slow data speeds, inconsistent coverage and long waiting times when you’ve called us,” Dews said in a memorable video message published on Vodafone’s website when Vodafail was in full swing.

So he is eminently well qualified when it comes to dealing with challenged businesses.

Petre had a good pep talk for his fellow McGrath investors.

“The real estate industry is facing similar changes to service-based industries globally, driven largely by technology and I am delighted Cath and Nigel will assist it [sic] navigate its future,” he said. Fired up

Celebrity Apprentice star Mark Bouris is really rolling up the sleeves to fix up his wealth management group, Yellow Brick Road.

Bouris announced to the ASX that he stepped down as chairman of biotech, Anteo Diagnostics, immediately before its shareholder meeting on Monday.

“Anteo has executed significant changes this last 12 months that will stand it in good stead for the future,”  Bouris said.

“My professional commitments with Yellow Brick Road and TZ Ltd have broadened in recent weeks, and relinquishing my role with Anteo Diagnostics allows me invest [sic] more time into these companies.”

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