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The Shoeshine Column: THE ENVELOPE PLEASE ... Shoeshine hands over the gongs

Friday 15th December 2000

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As the local equities market continued to glamorously flatline, as it has done for a decade, and with staff budgets cut, a streamlined but no less eminent group of judges gathered at Auckland's O-Shin Japanese restaurant to bestow the third annual Shoeshine Awards.

There will be no ceremony.

First up, a new award, the Danyon Loader Award for Treading Water. This was nearly dubbed the Revolving Door Trophy, in honour of the Fletcher Challenge communications team - a team that performed a feat unlikely to be bettered for the general horror of the task and the sheer number of those who took part.

Always present, at the forefront or in the background, was old hand Ginny Radford (dib dib dib) while a cast of near thousands got the call up for what can only be described as the PR job from hell. Barry Akers began the task of helping flog off the country's biggest corporate, left to pursue "other interests" and has returned to guide it into the grave.

In between time there have been solid performances from veteran PR junkie Clive Litt and the latest chief executive of the New Zealand Lotteries Commission Ariane Burgess.

Also bestowed on Fletcher Challenge: The Viagra Premature Ejaculation Award after the embattled company had its annual results splashed all over the Australian press, after releasing them to the Australian Stock Exchange "under embargo." The ASX doesn't recognise embargoes and treats any information as live, something Fletcher chairman Roderick Deane had some trouble getting to grips with.

"We understood it was a matter of convention ... we've always done it this way," spluttered a bemused Dr Deane to local press who wondered why they were sitting in a lock-up situation after the metaphoric horse had bolted.

The Dribbled a Bibfull Salver, previously the Hero to Zero Cup, goes to ex-Aquaria 21, now Aquaria Holdings, chief executive Ken Wikely. As the tech boom looked as though it might leave Earth's atmosphere altogether and investors poured their life savings into what was always a speculative company with a poor track record and loose intentions to "go tech," Mr Wikely put in a winning bid for this coveted award.

"Eric Watson is being called 'Midas Touch'" said one hyped-up investor. "Will he have any role in the future direction of the company?" "I don't know what role Eric will play but we're great mates ... incidentally, we're just off to play golf together," Mr Wikely gushed.

As the year progressed and Aquaria became the most dismal of shells a forlorn Mr Wikely, who was pestered from meeting to meeting by investors asking how Eric was, admitted: "I haven't played much golf lately, and I haven't seen Eric for a while either."

This year's KGB Award for Keeping People in the Dark has, we are pleased to announce, two worthy recipients.

The first goes to AMP for thinking it could sneak a 31-level office tower on to Auckland's waterfront without anybody noticing. Andrew Krukziener noticed but withdrew his opposition after the building's merits were drawn to his attention.

The other winners were the directors of Palliser Estate Wines which was listed on the grey market without their knowledge.

The move allowed a hitherto unknown degree of transparency to penetrate the private market for Palliser's shares, a market that had run for some years and had made some directors and sharebrokers rather wealthy.

For the second year in a row, the Tukuroirangi Morgan Medal for Thin-Skinned Sensitivity goes to Brierley Investments.

In a year in which it added a $346 million deficit to 1998's $1.1 billion blowout and the share price fell a further 33% the directors held the annual meeting in sunny Bermuda and asked for (and got) a fee rise to $72,000 apiece.

There can be only one winner of the Caterpillar Tractors Award for Blame-shifting. For Fletcher Challenge's failure to cover its cost of capital for a decade, director Hugh Fletcher blamed government policies while chairman Roderick Deane blamed overpaying for assets.

The prize goes to Hugh's father, Sir James, who blamed the media.

An all-new award, the Betamax Trophy for the Worst Business Plan, looks likely to run and run as a parade of hopeless e-stocks hits the exchange boards.

The inaugural gong goes to Eforce for its scheme to turn a timber processing operation into an online marketing company.

With the array of dud products Eforce offered anyone could have realised (and Shoeshine did, NBR, February 25) this was not a flyer. The portal was canned this week.

And the final but by no means least notable honour goes to Advantage Group, winner of the Annus Horribilis Pewter Mug (sponsored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II).

Always giving its own extremely favourable and complex perception of what appeared a starkly simple and generally unfavourable reality, thanks to an army of oleaginous PR flunkies, Advantage finally got stung for massaging the numbers in its annual result.

But the venom was however far more potent from the media and investment community than the old boys at the Stock Exchange.

Annus Horribilis runner up: Force Corporation for a stellar year. Highlights: failed Ihug merger, failed Hoyts merger, litigation over failed MTM deal, failed Imax backer Cinema Plus and a failed blockbuster season.

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