Perpetual Ltd. chief executive Geoff Lloyd was listening patiently to a homophobic rant. Henri Aram, who says he is “close to 90” years old, was railing against “same sex marriage.”
“It’s a very, very substantial problem,” says Aram, who arrived in Australia in December 1938 to escape the Holocaust. He says he has held stock in Perpetual for 40 years.
Lloyd, sitting on a dais in a room with aboriginal paintings on the wall, simply clasped his hands and looked on grimly as Aram criticised Perpetual for not advising people whose estates must now account for “daughters married to women with five kids.”
“The modern family is a far more complex thing,” was Lloyd’s response. Then he asked for more questions.
There is a noticeable difference in atmosphere at Perpetual these days. It is more personable.
Lloyd, 43, is used to dealing with people. He has worked in sales and exhibits less discomfort than his predecessor Chris Ryan when questioned about corporate strategy.
“I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with staff,” he told analysts gathered on the twelfth floor of the company’s headquarters last week to hear him speak.
“We can work harder and faster,” Lloyd told the men who rate Perpetual’s stock a “sell” or a “buy”.
Perpetual’s stock was $24.80 at 5 pm on February 28. On February 10 it closed at $21.85, the last day Ryan was in charge of the business.
But some say Lloyd needs to be more aggressive on cost cutting, particularly in its private client business. Lafitani Sotiriou, an analyst at Bell Potter Securities who used to work at Perpetual, says the company’s private clients business has “gone backward.”
The unit is earning less, says Sotirious, than it did several years ago.
“There is a need to make the business more efficient,” says Sotiriou who nevertheless has a “buy” recommendation on the stock.
Lloyd refuses to “pick a target” on people that may be fired under the latest program of cost cutting.
Perpetual will work with an international consultant to slash expenses. Lloyd wants to outsource Perpetual’s hardware and software needs and has asked for tenders.
Aram, the decades-long Perpetual shareholder, has some comfort for its chief executive.
He told Lloyd that former Perpetual asset manager John Sevior’s departure from the company has a silver lining. Sevior would not have set up his business unless he thought stock markets were going to rebound, Aram opined.
“The world is not coming to an end,” says Aram.
“Thank you,” Lloyd replied.