Colliers International Founder Bill McHarg’s Controversial Resignation Claims Corporate Casualty

Local private investor Dr Dorian Ribush, who owns an office building managed by Colliers at 406 Collins Street, has condemned the action of Colliers International management who he claims didn’t do enough to encourage Mr McHarg to stay.

Dr Ribush’s comments were made in a leaked email sent to Colliers executives, as well as members of the government and green industry groups.

Mr McHarg offered his resignation to Colliers executives on Thursday, the day before a controversial advertising campaign was to run, personally slamming Prime Minister John Howard’s political stance on climate change.

The advertisement depicts a caricature of Mr Howard playing a fiddle, with the bolded words “For 11 years Mr Howard has fiddled. Now Australia Burns.” Costing an estimated $200,000, the ads ran in the Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph and several other local papers. It encourages voters in Mr Howard’s electoral seat of Bennelong in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to vote “Planet First, Howard Last”.

Dr Ribush has called for the immediate resignation of Colliers Australian chief executive John Kenny who he said could have handled the situation tactfully, and differently.

“Leadership doesn’t mean getting goals for a certain matter,” Dr Ribush told The Age. “Leadership involves also showing capacity to accommodate and accept diverse views.”

“Global warming transcends politics,” he said. “To talk about it as solely a political thing is wrong, because it is also an ethical one.”

Mr McHarg, who is also understood to have resigned his position from the Green Building Council, could not be contacted. He had previously rejected invitations by The Age to comment on the matter.

In a copy of the Email seen by The Age this week, Dr Ribush says he is totally supportive of Mr McHarg’s funded advertising campaign.

“It is such actions by prominent persons within a company that give that company stature and credibility generally, and particularly in matters of critical moment, of which none is greater than climate change” Dr Ribush wrote to Colliers executives.

“How can a company that purports to provide leadership on issues of environmental sustainability in the property industry consider itself to be at variance to efforts from within itself to remove one of the country’s most noxious hindrances to progress in this very area?” he asked.

Colliers International executives sought to remove themselves from the controversy late last week.

“Our stance remains industry focused and we have no intention whatsoever of wading into these issues in a political manner,” Sydney-based Mr Kenny told The Age.
He had earlier described Mr McHarg’s actions as “politically motivated”.

Dr Ribush however describes Mr Kenny’s comments as “mealy-mouthed nonsense”.

“(It) can only be interpreted as you actually taking a political position of your own, rather than, if you really felt it necessary, politely and tactfully distancing Colliers from the “personal views” (of) Mr McHarg,” Dr Ribush said in his Email.

“In view of your betrayal of Mr McHarg and your inept, clumsy failure to appreciate and respond appropriately to the ethical and commercial opportunities that his actions offer, I call for your immediate resignation and for the reinstatement of Bill McHarg,” Dr Ribush told Mr Kenny in the email.

Councillor Fraser Brindley, chair of the environment committee with the Melbourne City Council agrees.

“This was an opportunity for Colliers to show its green credentials are more than skin deep,” Cr Brindley told The Age. “To me, it reeks of a company that likes environmental issues as long as it’s not political. But it is a political issue.”

“The irony is that the backlash of Colliers distancing themselves from Mr McHarg’s actions is going to far outweigh any benefit,” he said. “I think executives will realise it was far more politically unpalatable to quash Mr McHarg’s actions in this way.

Both Dr Ribush and Cr Brindley described Mr McHarg’s resignation as a huge loss for Colliers International’s reputation and prestige.

Mr McHarg’s resignation has become the talk about town in commercial property circles this week, with speculation he was encouraged, more than discouraged, to resign from the successful agency.

Colliers International Victorian chief executive John Marasco was quick to disagree, pointing to the agency’s strong track record encouraging environmental change.

“The resignation was his doing,” Mr Marasco told The Age. “We had a lengthy discussion and he (Bill) basically thought it was in everyone’s best interests to resign from the board.”

Mr Marasco said he does not expect further ramifications to arise from the controversial and mysterious resignation of one of the industry’s most outspoken sustainability advocates.

“I don’t think anything has changed in terms of our company’s commitment to sustainability,” he said.

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Marc Pallisco

A former property analyst and print journalist, Marc is the publisher of realestatesource.com.au.

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