QBE CEO Exits, Ex-BlueScope Exec Pleads Guilty To Obstructing Cartel Probe




QBE Group chief executive Pat Regan will leave the insurer after an external investigation into workplace communications that the board said did not meet the group's code of ethics and conduct.

In fact, media reports yesterday afternoon said it was a complaint from a female employee that triggered his departure yesterday.

The news saw investors sell QBE shares and they lost more than 6% on the day (in a very weak wider market with the ASX 200 losing 1.77%) to finish on $9.94, just above the low of $9.88.

QBE told the ASX on Tuesday chairman Mike Wilkins would take up the role of executive chairman while it launched an internal and external search for a new CEO to replace Mr. Regan, who had been running QBE for almost three years.

"We are committed to having a respectful and inclusive environment for everyone at QBE. The Board concluded that he had exercised poor judgement in this regard," Mr. Wilkins said in a statement.

"While these are challenging circumstances the Board recognises and thanks Mr. Regan for his hard work and contribution to strengthening QBE. However, all employees must be held to the same standards."

The company's announcement did not provide further details of the communications or its investigation.

But media reports said the complaint emerged from a female employee in the company’s North American branch. The woman had raised concerns about inappropriate workplace communications about 10 days ago, and these were passed on to the board.

The reports said QBE’s board commissioned an Australian law firm to conduct an investigation. The result was to be found in the statement from QBE’s board on Tuesday which said the communications did not meet the standards of its code of ethics and conduct.

Mr. Wilkins also filled in as temporary chief executive of AMP when it was thrown into crisis in 2018 after disclosures at the Hayden royal Commission left the wealth manager reeling and forced wholesale changed at board and senior manager levels.

"While COVID-19 has created significant challenges, QBE is successfully navigating this period of uncertainty, and the Group’s demonstrable financial strength positions us well to capitalise on accelerating pricing momentum and emerging organic growth opportunities," Mr. Wilkins said.

QBE shares fell 4.6% to $10.12 by the close yesterday. A very weak day for the wider market added to the pressur eon the shares as investors got jumpy about the GDP and other data to be released today.

Former senior BlueScope Steel executive Jason Ellis has pleaded guilty in Sydney’s court to one charge of obstructing a cartel investigation.

The charge related to Mr. Ellis’ actions during an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Competition (ACCC) into alleged cartel conduct by BlueScope, Australia’s biggest steelmaker, and its representatives.

In a statement on Tuesday, the ACCC said Mr. Ellis pleaded guilty to one charge of inciting two fellow BlueScope employees to give false information and evidence to the ACCC regarding discussions he and those BlueScope employees had in meetings with certain steel companies.

These matters were ‘rolled up’ into one obstruction charge, as part of Mr. Ellis’ guilty plea, accepted by the court yesterday, the Commission said in its statement.

“This is the first time an individual has been charged with inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth public official in relation to an ACCC investigation,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

The matter will now proceed to sentencing and is next listed for a sentencing hearing in the Local Court on December 8 this year.

The ACCC said separate civil cartel allegations filed by the ACCC against BlueScope and Mr. Ellis remain before the Federal Court.

“In those proceedings, the ACCC alleges that between September 2013 and June 2014, BlueScope and Mr. Ellis attempted to induce various steel distributors in Australia and overseas manufacturers to enter agreements containing a price-fixing provision.”