ANZ Board Minutes: banks on the production line

Australia’s financial services industry – indeed the corporate world - needs to go back to basics, according to ANZ Non-Executive Director, Graeme Liebelt.

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Pic: Graeme Liebelt (left) and Andrew Cornell

Speaking on podcast to bluenotes managing editor, Andrew Cornell, Liebelt says complexity is a corrosive force which, over time, becomes more and more difficult to cope with.

"For a boy from Mount Gambier, finding one's self as the CEO of a chemicals and explosives company seems an unlikely path, but it was very stimulating.” - Liebelt

“The simpler the suite of processes that you've got inside your company, the better able you will be to deliver those quality outcomes every time,” he says. “There comes a time where you need to get back to basics and just make sure that the simple processes are in place and working effectively.”

Liebelt has an economics background but his extensive corporate career was in manufacturing, including seven years as CEO of Orica Limited – a path he never saw coming.

“For a boy from Mount Gambier, finding one's self as the CEO of a chemicals and explosives company seems an unlikely path. But it was very stimulating,” he explains. 

Necessary exposure

Liebelt says his years working for a range of manufacturing companies such as Dulux, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and Orica helped him bring a fresh perspective when he joined the ANZ board.

“The quality of process matters as much in a bank as it matters in a manufacturing operation,” he said. “My background has given me a lot of exposure to getting processes right, making sure they deliver the required result. Whether it be an outcome for a customer or whether it be a product, a lot of those requirements are very similar.”

However, Liebelt concedes the financial services industry, globally, hasn’t always gotten their processes right.

“The banking industry is going through a period in which it's had to acknowledge that some of the processes put in place in the past have not worked as effectively as they should have,” he said. “[It’s] about making sure the processes we put in place are robust and deliver quality outcomes every time. There's a lot to be learnt from manufacturing in that regard.”

Although it has been a challenging year for banks, Liebelt says he has found working as a board to deal with these issues very interesting: “It's all very tempting to say that it's been just a difficult year… and we're still working through [it all]. I haven't had many, many quiet days this year.”

Making progress

Liebelt says while banks should never lose sight of the credit and other financial risks being managed, what's become more obvious recently is that the ability to deliver outcomes in all operational areas has been challenged.

“We need to pay a lot more attention to non-operational risk because it runs to the reputation of the institutions and ultimately, the stability of the system,” he says.

“There are more changes to be made but I think we're on the right path. How we entrench that culture and how we measure how well we're doing is something we're still working on and we'll continue to improve. But I think we're making good progress.

“We want our people to do the right thing by customers and other stakeholders. And leadership is a key part of how we get people to behave in ways that that are acceptable to the organisation and acceptable to the general public.”

Global moves

It should come as no surprise a young boy from South Australia who eventually ran a multinational corporation believes that globalisation is an irresistible force.

“One of the most powerful forces for lifting people out of poverty around the world has been the growth of international trade,” Liebelt says.” And so I'm very unhappy, as you might imagine, about the impediments to trade being put in place in various places.”

However, Liebelt admits there is good reason for some pushback, particularly in relation to some social media companies’ use of data and role in national elections.

“You can't think about a world with an Internet [connection] without believing there's going to be very substantial globalisation.” 

In July 2013, Graeme Liebelt joined ANZ’s Board as an Independent Non-Executive Director. Prior to this, he had a 23 year long executive career with Orica Limited including a period as Chief Executive Officer. He recently sat down with bluenotes managing editor, Andrew Cornell, as part of the Board Minutes series to discuss learning from manufacturing, leading by example and the inevitability of globalisation.

Andrew Cornell is managing editor of bluenotes

To access more of the Board Minutes series, click HERE.

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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