Vale Will Bailey AO

Will Bailey joined the Oakleigh branch of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank in January 1950. At the time, digital banking meant hand written ledgers and manual processes.

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Pic: Former ANZ CEO Will Bailey, 1989 Source: ANZ archives

By the time he retired as Chief Executive on September 30, 1992, one of his major legacies was modernising the bank, introducing automation and computerisation – and some technology still in use today. Indeed, ANZ opened Australia’s first “electronic branch” in 1985 under his stewardship.

"Those who worked with Bailey and knew him well remember a highly engaged, forthright but supportive leader who could be fiery but always generous.”

Bailey became Managing Director/CEO of the by-then ANZ (ES&A merged with ANZ in 1970, ANZ itself was created in 1951 via the merger of the Bank of Australasia and the Union Bank of Australia Ltd) on November 20, 1984.

He shepherded the bank through the highs of Asian expansion and lifted the bank’s profile in the corporate, government and media worlds. The low was the terrible Australian recession of 1991-92 where ANZ’s exposure to medium and large businesses, particularly those with connections to the property sector, saw it post a then record loss and barely survive as a corporate entity.

Willoughby James Bailey was born on the 29th of March 1933 and grew up in Melbourne’s south-east. His father was a highly qualified tradesman, his mother a devoted and strict housewife.

Those who knew him said his parents instilled values of hard work and helping others which he carried through his career and family life with wife Dorothy – whom he met at the Anglican church in Murrumbeena - and three daughters.

After retiring from ANZ, he and Dorothy established a Charitable Bequest through ANZ Trustees and co-founded a drop-in centre for street people and the marginalised in Melbourne. When they moved to Geelong in regional Victoria they supported the Geelong Community Foundation. Bailey was a Director of the Foundation from 2002 to 2009.

Bailey’s career saw him work in two Australian states – including a three-year stint in Geelong - New Zealand and the UK.

During his time as CEO, ANZ became the first Australian bank to establish a presence in Thailand, China and Korea.  ANZ also established the first Australian Merchant bank in Singapore (1986) and opened its first branches in the Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, The Philippines, Chile, Vietnam, Brazil and Tonga.  ANZ also expanded or consolidated its presence in Taiwan, Germany, Italy and the USA.

ANZ became the first Australian bank to offer late night foreign exchange trading, the first to offer customers a choice of their own PIN and the first to ban smoking on its premises.

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Pic: Opening of Beijing Office, October 1986 Source: ANZ archives

Those who worked with Bailey and knew him well remember a highly engaged, forthright but supportive leader who could be fiery – “freckles in his temper” was one wonderful description – but always generous.

Former ANZ Deputy CEO John Ries says he grew to appreciate the character of Bailey.

“He was energetic, far sighted, independent and ready to upset the ‘London Establishment’ and its ingrained behavioural culture,” Ries says – significant because ANZ was head-quartered in London until 1977.

“WJB took over from J D ‘Gidday Mister’ Milne. Often I would have to present in front of JDM with his potential successors and always on such occasions WJB would give me a wink to say ‘good luck’. That continued for the rest of my career under WJB.”

Ries says Bailey was restless for change to modernise the bank and undertook a significant organisational restructure in 1985-86.

One of the most memorable corporate events of his time was the bid by Perth-based entrepreneur Robert Holmes à Court to take over the venerable BHP, a bastion of the Melbourne establishment. ANZ was historically BHP’s main bank and Bailey was central to organising a defense against the raider.

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Pic: Will & Dorothy Bailey shaking the hand of the Pope John Paul II. ANZ was the official banker for his visit to Australia in 1986 Source: ANZ archives

Another four decade ANZ veteran, Jeff Pitt, was head of payments at the bank when some of Bailey’s major technology projects were undertaken.

“Will was a great sponsor of all electronic banking initiatives and maintained a very direct influence,” he says.

These included the then revolutionary Night & Day Bank project in 1981 (when he was Australia general manager) for establishing ATMs across Australia, including opening access to non-ANZ debit cards.

“Will also established a new organisational unit, Electronic Network Services, in the mid-80s" Pitt says, “and he was very proud of the electronic branch in Balwyn that had a drive-through facility, an ATM and enquiry terminals with a wide range of functions.”

Will Bailey died on August 13. He is survived by Dorothy, their daughters Alison, Robyn and Merryn, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Andrew Cornell is managing editor of bluenotes

Thanks to John Ries, Deborah Lasky-Davison, Eamon Veaney, Helen Prosser-Jones, Jeff Pitt and the ANZ Retired Officers’ Club (Victoria) for invaluable assistance with this obituary

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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