iiNet chairman “proud” as TPG sell-out looms


news iiNet chairman Michael Smith has labelled the company’s planned sell-out to TPG as a “very significant day” in iiNet’s “proud history”, as shareholders vote today on what is still one of the most controversial mergers ever to have been proposed in Australia’s telecommunications industry.

TPG initially made a $1.4 billion offer for iiNet in March this year, but subsequently raised its bid to a $1.56 billion cash and shares offer after a competing $1.6 billion all-share offer from rival telco M2 Group. iiNet shareholders are scheduled to vote on the deal today, although it is still subject to approval by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In his chairman’s address to the shareholder meeting today, iiNet chairman Michael Smith (pictured) — who has led the group’s board since May 2009 — said he wanted to acknowledge what iiNet had achieved.

“Today marks a very significant day in the proud history of iiNet,” Smith said. “Without wanting to preempt the outcome of the vote we will conduct later in the meeting, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the achievement of building a company such as we have at iiNet.”

“The takeover process we have been through over recent months demonstrates how strategically valuable iiNet has become to national players in the telecommunications sector as the industry heads towards an inevitable consolidation phase. It’s clear we have built a business with a brand, customer base and reputation for customer service that a number of key players in the industry would like to own.”

“This is a testament to the dedicated team we have at iiNet that is so well led by our CEO David Buckingham. I would like to formally acknowledge all of their efforts and express my genuine appreciation. It would also be remiss not to acknowledge the past efforts and achievements of Michael Malone in building this company from such humble beginnings. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without his tireless efforts over many years.”

iiNet’s board has recommended that the TPG offer be accepted, and the board directors will vote all of their own shares in favour of the deal.

Lingering concerns
However, there are substantial ongoing concerns regarding the TPG deal. Malone himself, who founded iiNet in 1993 in his garage and built the company into a national concern, publicly called in March for the TPG deal to be rejected, and has contacted shareholders and executives to note that he supports M2’s rival offer. Malone has also called for a spill of iiNet’s board over the issue.

In addition, some of iiNet’s institutional shareholders are not happy about the arrangement, and the deal is still the subject of an inquiry by the ACCC, which has expressed its own concerns with the arrangement. Macquarie Telecom has complained directly to the ACCC about the proposed merger.

Historically, iiNet has taken a premium position in the Australian broadband marketplace, going up against major telcos such as Telstra and Optus, and leaving the lower end of the marketplace to rivals such as TPG. In addition, iiNet is one of the few Australian broadband providers known to have substantial customer service and technical skills within its operations.

If TPG buys iiNet and harmonises its product offerings with its own, a substantial degree of choice would leave the broadband market.

Greens telecommunications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, stated in March that the acquisition would have “a sharply negative impact on the level of competition in Australia’s broadband market” and said the ACCC should oppose the deal.

“Competition in Australia’s broadband sector has been painstakingly built up over a period of more than two decades. The ACCC must not sit by and let the sector descend into a feeding frenzy that leaves consumers with no real choice between services,” Senator Ludlam said.

It beggars belief that iiNet chairman Michael Smith would link the word “proud” to the proposed TPG buyout of the company that Michael Malone spent so much energy and so many years of his life building.

It is a fact plain as day that very obvious concerns remain amongst iiNet’s shareholders, customers, the competition regulator, Australia’s political sector and even amongst iiNet’s own current and former executives regarding the TPG deal. Very few stakeholders involved will be “proud” if this deal goes through.

The two companies represent a fundamental mismatch in terms of company and executive culture, and this merger would substantially weaken competition in Australia’s broadband marketplace. The ACCC must block this transaction from taking place.

Would the M2 deal be substantially better for all concerned? Yes, clearly it would. There is a much better company culture match between M2 and iiNet, and this would entrench strong competition in Australia’s broadband marketplace, due to the existence of four strong players, not three. Plus, there is the small fact that it was technically actually worth more (although it is purely based on shares and not partial cash, as TPG’s offer is) on paper.

I can’t believe that iiNet chairman Michael Smith and the board can be so blind on this matter. Even if they firmly believe the TPG deal is a good one, they are handling it with a complete lack of sensitivity that I never thought to see from iiNet. On the other hand, given that Michael Malone (with his strong degree of personal integrity and clear alignment with the company’s history and the best interests of its shareholders, staff and customers) no longer runs iiNet, I guess it’s what we should have expected.

Image credit: iiNet


  1. Sick of all these sell-outs and mergers. As a customer I want a good choice of RSPs to chose from. I’m not going to get that if they keep eating each other. When asked for ISP recommendations I used to be able to say “Anyone but Telstra, Optus or Dodo” now I’ll have to just say TPG which makes it sound really biased.

  2. Given the relative size of these two to Telstra and maybe even Optus, I doubt the ACCC will ever intervene unless it involves Telstra. So it’s a sad day, unless you are a shareholder. The doubling in size every year of iiNet had to end sooner or later, in tears or profit.

  3. I’m not sure I understand – The shareholders can’t be that unhappy if 95% voted for it?

    • I bet those whinging about the sale are frequent sellers on the web sites like ebay. Why is it it alright for these people to sell what the own, yet in their eyes, not alright for someone else to sell what they own, IE iiNet shares.

      When you live in a free market society, people need to understand they have a right to trade what they own.

  4. Well it seems the shareholders were pretty definite in their opinions, 95% voted for the amalgamation… might be harder for the ACCC to make any move given that result. There are two ways of assessing this, the popular one being that iiNet, given it’s almost saintlike status in the tech community, should stand alone against the forces of evil. The other is that they have progressively lost their lustre, particularly with regards to recent nbn and support performance issues, coincidental to Malone and Dalby leaving, and why should Telstra and Optus be protected from having a third major sized competitor…

    As a happy TPG nbn 100/40 fttp and long time customer I don’t really care as long as my service stays as solid as it is now. I am always amused by the media and forums takes on TPG, my experience with them over the years has been nothing but positive. As for the industry, it is now purely commercial, and the isps will shaft their customers from the privacy and morality perspective as long as they can make their bottom line with as little government interference as possible.

    • Well not quite 95% voted for it, there were only 89% present to cast a vote. So more like 85% of total shareholders voted for it. But yes, your point remains valid.

  5. “Michael Smith and the board can be so blind on this matter”

    It’s the difference between a company run by someone who built the company and someone who didn’t. The one who built it is more likely to be concerned for it’s future and customers. With no such attachment it’s pretty rare for them to care for more than their own hip pocket.

  6. I think you might need to revise this article in light of Michael Malone’s recent comments backing the deal:

    Mr Malone, who founded the telco in his parent’s Perth garage in 1993, had been a firm opponent to TPG’s original $1.4 billion all-cash bid in March but said the iiNet board had drawn out a better offer after listening to shareholder concerns.

    “I’m feeling sad but it is going out at a good price at, I think, the top of the market,” Mr Malone told reporters after the meeting.

    “It is going out at nearly $10 – that is pretty incredible for a company that was down at 20c. If I had been sitting on the board I would have taken the offer as well. It is at that level where you couldn’t say no because you represent the shareholders.”

    Read more:

    • Interesting, although I note he has largely been dragged over the line on shareholder fiduciary duty grounds — he’s still “sad” about it.

  7. Of course this tosser is proud. hes now going to retire and watch all those customers get crap service, and watch all those staff look for a new job while he kicks back, from someone elses creation

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