Vicinity's CEO's early exit followed a sexual harassment warning

Vicinity’s CEO’s early exit followed a sexual harassment warning

The 360-degree review focused on Vicinity’s top three executives and concluded that there was significant dysfunction and discord arising from some of Mr. Kelley’s conduct.

tea Financial review understands that initial discussions of Mr Kelley’s final retirement from Vicinity began much earlier this year as part of broader discussions about succession within the company and Mr Kelley’s plans for the next phase of his career.

The subsequent October 31 announcement of Mr Kelley’s expected retirement by the middle of next year was made after the sexual harassment investigation had begun but before it was completed.

Both negative reports came in shortly after that announcement, prompting discussions between Mr Kelley and his board about how soon he would go.

On November 15, just one day before the annual general meeting, it was announced that Mr Kelley would be stepping down the next day after the meeting.

The board of directors of the $8.7 billion ASX-listed company has not terminated Mr Kelley’s employment. Instead, Mr Kelley’s expedited departure was arranged by mutual agreement.

‘Why do I put up with such behavior?’

The sexual harassment complaint, filed by former Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Marie Festa – who has agreed to be named in this story – was officially filed about two months ago. The Executive Board reacted immediately by appointing an external employee investigator.

“I just thought to myself, ‘Why do I put up with this kind of behavior? Why would I do that, why would anyone do that?’” Ms. Festa said Financial review.

“I wasn’t necessarily traumatized, I was angry. I decided I just had to resign. But then a very wise woman said to me, “Marie, if someone like you, with a 20+ year leadership career, doesn’t have a say, how can we expect others to take that risk and feel safe? do the same?'”

The report confirmed several allegations made by Ms Festa over a series of unwelcome comments made by Mr Kelley more than a year ago about her attractiveness and boasting about his sexual exploits.

It emerged that Vicinity’s chief executive said the following words to Ms. Festa in October last year: “We’re alike. We are both attractive people. And that’s something we’ve had to deal with all our lives.”

In July of this year, Mr Kelley said the following to Ms Festa: “I was at lunch [a leading corporate figure]. You and she have similar problems. You’re both attractive women and you’ve had to deal with that throughout your career.”

The third incident occurred on the same day and was triggered by a profiling request by him financial report BOSS area. During a discussion on whether to proceed with the profile, Mr Kelley said: “If I were 20 years younger and single I would do it. When I was on the cover of forbes Asia Magazine, I have a lot of action.”

False rumours, nickname

The sexual harassment inquiry also revealed that Mr Kelley falsely accused Ms Festa of having a relationship with another executive and spread this false rumor to her colleagues in the first half of this year.

The investigator also noted that Mr Kelley gave Ms Festa a nickname in reference to her appearance during a leadership team meeting and continued to call her by that name at subsequent meetings.

“This type of sexual harassment can make you question whether you’re actually valued because you’re good at what you do, or because they have different ideas about you,” Ms Festa said, speaking this month has resigned.

“I only want to be appreciated for the merits of my work, it shouldn’t have anything to do with my looks.”

Vicinity is expected to update its 1,200 employees on the full circumstances of Mr Kelley’s departure this week as the company’s board and management seek to repair the culture.

Vicinity Centers owns the Chadstone Shopping Center in Melbourne. Getty

“Vicinity prides itself on being a safe and inclusive place to work for all of its team members. We take allegations of misconduct very seriously and follow a strict protocol to address concerns as soon as they are reported,” a spokeswoman said Financial review.

“An independent external investigation into this case was conducted which found that four allegations could be substantiated and Vicinity took advice on the appropriate sanctions against Mr Kelley.

“Furthermore, both the substantiated allegations and the subsequent findings of a 360-degree internal review prompted the Vicinity Board and Mr. Kelley to agree that Mr. Kelley’s retirement would be brought forward.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Kelley confirmed that he had been the subject of allegations and that he had fully cooperated with the investigation. But the former chief executive later released a later statement dismissing a key claim made by Vicinity.

“From the outset, I have denied the allegations of misconduct made against me by a former Vicinity employee, and I maintain those denials,” he said.

Marie Festa, former Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Vicinity Centers.

“I never had the opportunity to read the investigator’s report who investigated the allegations. I still have no idea of ​​the investigator’s operation or goal.

“Vicinity’s suggestion that I have agreed to bring my retirement forward in light of the investigation is incorrect.

“The company had the right to expedite my retirement and it had the right to exercise that right after the board received the results of an internal review unrelated to the allegations or the investigator’s findings.

“The findings, which I reject, have led to a warning, nothing more. I was not terminated, given no reason to resign, and the implication that I acknowledged wrongdoing by “agreing” to bring my retirement forward is demonstrably false.”

Vicinity’s national portfolio includes the country’s largest shopping mall, Chadstone in south-east Melbourne, which it co-owns with wealthy lister John Gandel, who is also Vicinity’s largest shareholder.

Basketball owner, Adelaide facility

A corporate high achiever, Mr. Kelley was hired by Vicinity in 2017 after a successful career abroad. He began work in early 2018 and has led the company through the disruption in the industry caused by the pandemic.

Mr Kelley, 58, is a figure in the Adelaide establishment with considerable interests in South Australia, including the Adelaide 36ers basketball team, which he owns.

As a result of his early departure, Mr. Kelley will lose $2.025 million in long-term incentives and any short-term incentives he may have received after fiscal 2023.

With the departure of Mr. Kelley, Vicinity has quickly appointed its Chief Operating Officer, Peter Huddle, a well-respected retail veteran, as acting Chief Executive while it completes an executive search to fill the top post. Mr. Huddle, who has held senior positions during a long career at Westfield, has established himself as a favorite to lead the company on an enduring basis.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kelley moves on to his next venture and plans to set up a private equity platform backed by wealthy players who will invest in neighborhood and sub-regional malls.

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