Jeff Kennett to stand down early from Hawthorn presidency

Jeff Kennett has flagged a willingness to stand down as Hawthorn president earlier than his term’s scheduled conclusion in December 2023.

While Kennett has not set a departure date, he has told the Hawthorn board, and now the club members, of his preparedness to step aside early – with a date yet to be determined.

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett.Credit:Getty Images

Kennett had been pressured to go early by activist supporter group ‘Hawks for Change’, who had gathered 2900 signatures for a potential spill of his position and had lobbied the Hawthorn board to have Kennett leave far sooner than his two years he has left.

As part of the arrangement, Kennett’s board has agreed to form a nominations committee comprised of board members – and external Hawthorn people – to decide on his replacement as next president.

In a peace deal that enabled Kennett’s decision to cut short his tenure (subject to a process), ex-Australian Super boss Ian Silk will be endorsed as a new board member, while incumbent director and Dingley fund-raiser Tim Shearer, who is up for election, will also be backed by the board to retain his spot.

But it is likely that former premiership player and ex-board member Andy Gowers will no longer contest a board vacancy that he previously nominated for, and will instead join the nominations committee announced by Kennett.

Ex-player Simon Taylor, who had also nominated for the board with Kennett’s backing, could also withdraw his nomination.

The Age can reveal there were five meetings of the Hawthorn board in the past several weeks, in which the prospective challenge to Kennett and his grip on the board was a topic.

While Silk and, initially, Gowers were challenging the board, along with two other candidates, Kennett is directly elected by the members, rather than the board, in what was a complication for those pushing for him to step aside.

Kennett has told members that a decision on the preferred candidate to replace him will be made by June 30, 2022. This decision will be made by the nominations committee made up of board and non-board members and formed after the annual general meeting in December.

Confirming his position in an email to members, Kennett said: “We will require the committee to make its final recommendation of their preferred candidate to the board by 30 June next year.
“On the agreement of the board on their recommendation, and the acceptance of the nominee, and his or her availability to commence work, we will then decide when I hand over the baton.
“So, life is about changes and opportunities and with our new coach, the club is in such a good and strong position to move into 2022.
“Now is the right time to plan my succession and transition in an orderly way. We are starting that process now.”

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In his letter to members, Kennett noted that he had only stood for re-election for another three-year term as president because of the COVID pandemic.

The Hawks for Change push, backed by influential Hawthorn people including ex-player and board member Bruce Stevenson, had voiced concern about Kennett and the club’s handling of the departure of four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson, and of his sometimes-combative relationship with the AFL, and unrelated criticisms of the Andrews government’s handling of the pandemic.

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