Mike Cannon-Brookes' Grok Ventures buys 11% stake in AGL to block demerger plans

The tech billionaire is giving it a third crack at shifting AGL Energy into the renewable energy market.

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Image: Brook Mitchell/Stringer/Getty Images

While Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes' initial plans with Canadian asset giant Brookfield to takeover AGL were rejected twice earlier this year, it has not stopped the tech entrepreneur from trying a third time.

Grok Ventures, Cannon-Brookes' private investment company, has announced the company and its affiliates have acquired an 11.28% stake in the Australian energy giant, making it AGL's largest shareholder.

In this new position, Grok Ventures outlined its intentions to vote against AGL's proposed demerger plans and has launched a campaign urging fellow AGL shareholders to also vote against it. Grok said it has written to the AGL Board outlining its intentions.

Under AGL's demerger plan, the company would be split into two separate businesses: AGL Australia would own the company's power, gas, and telecommunications retailing business along with its clean energy assets, while Accel Energy would continue to hold onto its ownership of coal and gas-fired power generators in Australia.

"The proposed demerger will be a catalyst for the potential realisation of shareholder value. It will create two industry leading companies with distinct value propositions. It will allow each business to be valued separately and more positively by the market on the basis of their own specific business fundamentals," AGL Energy chairman Peter Botten previously told shareholders.

However, Cannon-Brookes, principal of Grok, believes keeping AGL as one firm would enable the company to transition to net-zero -- a plan the tech billionaire has had in mind for AGL since he began putting forward takeover bids. The company also argued the demerger plan as "sub-optimal" and it would only result in two weaker, interdependent companies.

"We are at a critical point in Australia's energy transition, and in AGL's future. This is about delivering cheap, reliable, and clean energy to millions of families and businesses. We believe by keeping the company together, AGL can continue its long and proud history as a pioneer through energy market transitions," Cannon-Brookes said.

"By not transitioning fast enough away from fossil fuels, the board has presided over AGL's value plummeting to the tune of about 70% in five years.

"Sweating old coal plants which are expensive to run, and increasingly breakdown like we're seeing today with Loy Yang A is not economical or responsible. It makes no sense, or cents."

The proposed demerger of AGL was penned to be completed by 30 June 2022.

The news comes as Cannon-Brookes' main vehicle, Atlassian, outlined plans on how it was going to avoid another disastrous outage that accidentally disabled several cloud services and took nearly two weeks to fix, and regain the trust of its customers. 

Some of the actions being taken by Atlassian include establishing a "soft delete" policy that also includes a tested rollback plan, improving the backup of key contacts, retrofitting support tooling so customers without a valid site URL or Atlassian ID can still directly contact technical support, and revisiting the company's incident communication playbook. 

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