Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) chairman Wal Merriman has resigned.
Mr Merriman has been involved in a number of scandals in the past few years, including the ‘man in the mirror’ incident in which he watched a focus group without its consent behind a two-way mirror.
He also told an ABC reporter to f*** off and has recently said AWI would be insolvent if a wool poll vote did not go his way.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Mr Merriman said he was proud of what had been achieved during his time as chairman, stating the organisation was responsible for the current boom in wool prices.
“We have invested record amounts in research and development, making breakthroughs that will future-proof the wool industry.
“Our increased focused on marketing, including the re-establishment of the International Woolmark Prize, has ensured Australian wool is back on the radar of the world’s leading designers and brands.”
Deputy chairwoman named as replacement
Mr Merriman joined the AWI board in 2004 and had been chairman since 2008.
He will remain a director of AWI for at least another year, at which point his position will be up for re-election at an annual general meeting in November 2019.
The AWI has appointed deputy chairwoman Colette Garnsey as Mr Merriman’s replacement, effective immediately.
She said Mr Merriman had not been forced to resign.
“This was completely Wal’s decision,” she said.
“He has proven that he will always do what’s in the interest of wool growers, but I think Wal feels it’s time for new leadership.”
Ms Garnsey said Mr Merriman would not receive any payout for leaving early, and his legacy put him alongside two pioneers of the wool industry in John and Elizabeth Macarthur.
“I earnestly believe that history will judge Wal Merriman’s chairmanship of AWI and his role in the industry extremely favourably,” she said.
“It was his vision to take the company overseas, to invest in marketing, to talk to the world’s leading brands and retailers about the benefits of wool and how gorgeous the fibre is, so it would become a specialised fibre in designer garments.”
She would not comment on the scandals surrounding Mr Merriman’s period as chairman.
Years of experience in range of sectors
Ms Garnsey spent her early childhood on sheep properties in western New South Wales.
She has 39 years of experience in the retail, wholesale, distribution and marketing sectors, which include a period working with David Jones dealing with major brands in Australia and around the world.
Ms Garnsey has served on a CSIRO advisory board and joined the AWI board in 2010.
She took up the role of deputy chairwoman in 2017 and is the first woman to chair AWI.
Ms Garnsey said the organisation would continue to focus on the priorities outlined in the organisation’s three-year plan, as well as responding to the recommendations of an independent review.
The key recommendations included a shift to a skills-based board, a 10-year cap on director tenure, and greater independence of the committee that assesses director applications.
Minister thanks Merriman for service
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud thanked Mr Merriman for his service to the wool industry.
“He will leave a legacy few will forget. He’s chosen a logical time to step down,” he said.
“New leadership will take on new challenges for AWI.”
AWI will announce the results of its WoolPoll vote soon, which will determine how much growers pay to the organisation in levies.
A total of 13,634 wool levy payers had voted by the November 2 deadline, and counting is continuing.