Charles Rennie and the modern ANZ

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Photo: Charles Rennie and Mike Smith

An edited transcript of ANZ chairman John Morschel’s address at Charles Rennie’s 100th birthday celebration last year

“I would like to start by thanking Charles and his wife Joy for allowing ANZ’s current and retired officers to be part of this significant celebration.

I’d also like to formally acknowledge two other former Chief Executives who are here today - Will Bailey and Don Mercer … we look forward to celebrating your 100th birthdays in a similar fashion …. although, admittedly, that’s some way off!

Speaking personally, it’s good to have another opportunity to spend time with all of you. 

Charles Henry Rennie had a long and highly distinguished career with ANZ …. joining the Union Bank as a clerk in 1928 and retiring in 1976, almost 50 year later, as Managing Director. 

From those early days, he rose steadily through ranks based on his talent and his warm personality.

Having served Australia in the RAAF during the war, Charles went on to have an international career with the bank working in Melbourne, London, Sydney and Wellington.

Back then both the world and ANZ were very different places.

However, once you scratch the surface you realise many of the issues which Charles dealt with when he led the bank are the very same issues we are managing today.

For instance, when Charles was first appointed Assistant General Manager of the International Banking Division in 1964, we were making considerable advances in connecting customers from Australia and New Zealand with key overseas markets – this sounds very similar to our super regional strategy today.

Reading the annual reports from the time suggests to me the bank was also grappling with a difficult economy and a difficult political environment .… how things have changed.

As Chief Executive, Charles was also ahead of his time and was one of the first leaders in corporate Australia to take employee engagement seriously.

After being appointed Managing Director, he embarked on an extensive tour of the business … known internally as his “getting to know you” program …. spending countless hours meeting with staff and learning about the issues that were holding ANZ back and the opportunities the bank had for growth.

This was a period of great change for the bank following the merger with ES&A and Charles recognised the benefit of a motivated and engaged workforce on productivity and customer service.

At the time it was considered quite radical for a CEO to spend so much time with staff …. but it’s a great illustration of why Charles was considered one of the most innovative CEOs of his time.

He was also attuned to the crucial importance of technology to the bank’s future.

He assured staff that computers would allow them to spend more time understanding their customer’s needs …. Saying, quite rightly that: “customers want more from their bank than a mere lodging and withdrawal service”.

It was also under his leadership that the bank started to make serious progress in the advancement of women in the workforce.

During his time as CEO, the bank appointed its first female branch accountant .… and while this may seem trivial today .… back in 1973 it was a significant step forward.

It’s difficult to believe but you have to remember that this was a time when women had to seek special permission from HR to get married. 

However Charles’ greatest legacy was the role he played in creating the ANZ we know today.

Charles was a driving force behind the merger that created the modern ANZ and the decision to transfer our headquarters from London to Melbourne …. two of the most important decisions in our long history.

One of my predecessor’s, Chairman Angus Mackinnon, summed it up best in the 1976 annual report where he said:

“His dedication, wisdom and ability were vital elements of the merger planning and operation, and many staff under his control learnt to appreciate the warmth of his personality and his thoughtfulness and consideration towards them at all times.”

Also see 'Charles Rennie, a very modern leader'.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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