Fletcher Building chairman Sir Ralph Norris has stopped short of accepting responsibility for losses in construction projects and says chief executive Mark Adamson was dumped after an abusive email to staff.

Last month, Mr Adamson left the company when it announced annual earnings would be down by about $100 million because bigger-than-expected losses in the Building + Interiors business, which suffered a $292m loss from cost blow outs in major projects.

On Wednesday, the company confirmed operating earnings before one-time items were $525m in the 12 months ended June 30, from $682m a year earlier. Basic earnings per share were down 24 per cent to 46.3 cents.

Sir Ralph fronted a conference call where he said a recent internal survey had shown that Mr Adamson was rated very highly and had actually done “a very good job improving the culture of the organisation”.

“The issue with Mark – in frustration he wrote an email that was not appropriate and that caused some concern in B + I. Mark and I had a discussion and we came to the view this was inappropriate,” Sir Ralph said.

Mr Adamson had been considering his future anyway, with his term coming up.

“Mark will tell you he’s 100 per cent accountable for the result – the good and the bad.”

Sir Ralph was pressed about the board’s performance and said the directors had taken “an exhaustive approach” and that he personally felt more like an executive than a director, given “the amount of time I have spent in this business this year.”

“We acknowledge the tough year we had – it’s not the result we wanted,” he said. “We absolutely take responsibility for where we are today.”

The directors wouldn’t get an increase in their fees this year, he said. New managers had been put in place across the construction business, he said.

The company didn’t give a forecast for 2018 but said operating cash flows would improve and there would be a rebound in earnings from B + I.

Taking together the dividend payments and the drop in Fletcher shares, shareholders got a nil return from 2017.


By Jonathan Underhill