Margaret Jackson, chairman of Qantas since August 2000, on Thursday became the first casualty of the failed A$11bn ($9.1bn) take-over bid for the flag-carrier, and will step down from the board when her term expires in November.
Ms Jackson and other board members have been under acute pressure to resign since the bid by Airline Partners Australia, a buy-out consortium including Macquarie Bank and private equity group Texas Pacific, failed earlier this month.
Ms Jackson is believed to have lost the support of key directors who, after a day-long meeting in Melbourne, on Thursday night endorsed her decision to resign at the company’s annual meeting.
Ms Jackson, who joined the board in 1992, was the key figure in talks that led to the airline agreeing to APA’s takeover offer last December.
She faced widespread criticism over the perception that she lobbied too vigorously for the bid’s success, as the board urged shareholders and institutions to accept the offer of A$5.45 a share.
But shareholders refused to sell to APA amid fierce debate across Australia over the merits of allowing the airline to fall into the hands of private equity.
Qantas upgraded its annual earnings guidance three times as its share price soared 31 per cent during the six-month sale process. Hedge funds that had acquired large stakes also proved reluctant to sell.
On Thursday, APA confirmed it would not launch another offer.
Ms Jackson’s credibility has been further damaged by the resilience of Qantas shares – which closed at A$5.25 on Thursday – in spite of her assertion that a failed bid would see the airline’s stock plummet.
Analysts have said other directors of the 11-member Qantas board – which includes James Packer, executive chairman of media and gaming group Publishing and Broadcasting – may also be under pressure to resign to avoid any shareholder backlash.
But Geoff Dixon, chief executive, is widely expected to stay on to ensure continuity.
A former partner with KPMG and non-executive director of ANZ Bank, Ms Jackson was widely thought Australia’s leading businesswoman and was touted as a future governor-general.
Analysts have tipped board member John Schubert, chairman of Commonwealth Bank and a director of BHP Billiton, as a possible successor to Ms Jackson.
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