Shareholder activist Tilburn approaches 500 AGMs

He is the bane of Australia's top companies and even some shareholders.

Love or loathe him, shareholder activist Jack Tilburn will attend his 500th annual general meeting in a few months time.

The 86-year-old is a regular fixture at company annual general meetings and is famous for his explosive outbursts directed towards corporate boards.

The former school teacher sees himself as a corporate terminator - he attended 22 AGMs last year alone.

Mr Tilburn slammed the Westpac board for only passing on part of the Reserve Bank's cut in interest rates to borrowers at its annual shareholder meeting in December.

He has also locked horns with top executives, including BHP Billiton's chairman Jacques Nasser.

At the company's AGM in November, he attacked the mining giant's purchase of shale gas assets in the United States, which it had to write down last year.

"We go and spend $5 billion on Fayetteville, write it down, and get rid of the bad debts," he told the AGM.

Mr Nasser pleaded with Mr Tilburn to ask a question instead of making statements.

"Jack, just please ask a question and I'll try and answer it," Mr Nasser said.

"The question is, why aren't we getting more?" Mr Tilburn asked.

Crusader or pest? He says he is upholding shareholder democracy, but not every investor agrees with Jack Tilburn's approach.

An audible groan can often be heard at AGMs when Mr Tilburn gets up to speak. Sometimes he is jeered by other investors.

One shareholder at the Graincorp AGM told the ABC he considered Mr Tilburn to be a "court jester and I wish he'd speak less." However, Jack Tilburn says he a corporate crusader, not a corporate pest.

"You've got to be ever, ever vigilant against the machinations of public companies," he explained.

Mr Tilburn says he not bothered by jeers from other investors or threats to "take him outside".

"I've had some threaten fisticuffs, but it's never happened," he said.

"I'm a pretty good, strong fellow at six foot and 14 stone.

I don't slink away.

I don't shirk at all.

"People tell me to shut up but I don't believe in that.

I believe in democracy and I believe for standing up for what you think is right and proper." He says Australia's chief executives are grossly overpaid for the work they do.

"They get too much money, they get too much money, for too little work," he told the ABC in an interview.

Mr Tilburn is a shareholder in 31 Australian companies, including AMP, Brambles, Westpac, ANZ, Woolworths and BHP Billiton.

He says media companies including Fairfax are not performing well.

'Time to retire' Stephen Mayne is a fellow shareholder activist from the Australian Shareholders Association.

He thinks its time for Jack Tilburn to hang up his boots.

"In a nation lacking a culture of shareholder pressure, if only there were more people out there like Jack Tilburn who had spoken at 500 AGMs," Mr Mayne lamented.

"I just think at the age of 86 and given the quality of his contributions, it's time for Jack to retire.

"Sometimes Jack tends to have a bit of a scatter gun approach, it's hard to work out why he's angry or why he is happy." However, Jack Tilburn says he has no plans to retire.

"There's always so much room for improvement in corporation governance, disclosure and transparency to help the shareholders understand what's going on with their money," he said.

Asked why he sometimes personally attacked executives, Mr Tilburn says he has never been defamatory.

"I've never had any defamation action in 499 AGMs.

If a chairman says 'I think that's defamatory Mr Tilburn', I turn around immediately and say, 'Well I am sorry about, I am sorry you take it that way but I apologise and I withdraw'," Mr Tilburn said.

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