Christmas wishes • 21 December 2008 • The SnowBlog
The other day I mentioned finding a receipt for a new Ford Cortina among my late dad's papers. Another document of interest that I came across were the Woolworths Group Accounts for September of this year. My dad was on the board as a non-exec and he went into hospital so suddenly he certainly didn't have a chance to start locking away all his business paperwork. It's amazing to me to look at the corporate picture as recently as September. I probably shouldn't even make reference to what the accounts showed, but then on the other hand, it all seems a little bit academic now. But the picture painted is one of a stable but lacklustre business with a bit more debt than was ideal given how suddenly no one wants to lend money any more. It certainly wasn't a snapshot of a business three months from total oblivion. I can only assume that what I've read in the press is true: some key lenders wanted their money back at short notice and when no one else stepped forward to take over the debt, the company was hurriedly wound up. 28,000 people out of work just before Christmas, many of them going home to their families unpaid. And not because Woolworths went bust; simply because its bankers withdrew funds unexpectedly. I'll admit I'm biased, but personally I wouldn't have seen the harm in the government extending a six month loan of 250m. Perhaps one of the banks we all own shares in could have helped out with some of that cash. It wouldn't have needed to be a gift. There's every chance the business could have been transformed into something a little more in keeping with the current economic climate given a bit of breathing space. In fact I half expect that as the recession took hold, many new customers would have looked to Woolies for bargain bits and pieces. But it wasn't to be. So I just hope not all of those 28,000 people are having a miserable Christmas.