PODCAST: Gonski reflects on time as Chair

Outgoing ANZ Chairman David Gonski AC has thought in great depth about whether now is the right time to retire from his chair.

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Pic: Outgoing ANZ Chairman David Gonski at the bank's headquarters in Melbourne

Gonski, who spoke with bluenotes via phone from his home in Sydney, says he could have easily made excuses to continue in the role he describes as a “great honour” but admitted now is the right time for him to hand over the reins to successor Paul O’Sullivan.

"I think now is a good time for there to be a new chair. And the new chair, let me assure you, will be excellent.” – David Gonski

“I don't want to leave people in a time of difficulty… but I think we're well supported, in good shape, [have] a strong balance sheet [and] good staff,” he says. “I'm very happy with where ANZ is.”

Click here for podcast transcript

An iconic history

However, Gonski is keen to emphasise he is not retiring. He still holds roles across various organisations and boards and intends these to continue.

“I don't want to retire, I want to keep doing things,” he explains. “[But] I think now is a good time for there to be a new chair. And the new chair, let me assure you, will be excellent.”

Gonski initially joined ANZ’s board in February 2002 as the bank strengthened its presence in New Zealand with the purchase of the National Bank. When he took a break between 2007 and 2014, the Global Financial Crisis hit and left a noticeable mark on the financial services industry. Upon his return, Gonski appointed Shayne Elliott (then Chief Financial Officer) as the bank’s Chief Executive and oversaw the simplification of the bank’s Asian strategy.

It was the appointment of Elliott, he says, that he is proudest of in his time as Chair.

“I will not forget that period,” Gonski explains. “The proof is in the pudding and [Shayne has] done a wonderful job.

“Shayne was the first to coin the concept that [ANZ would] be less complex, more simple in the way we do things, we'll refine our products and so on… And he has, in my opinion, walked the talk. We've done a lot of simplification and I think that will stand us - and other banks who seek to do that - in very good stead.”

Tough times

Reflecting on the more difficult periods of his time as chair, Gonski says the effect of the Financial Services Royal Commission was ultimately a good thing.

“It made us have a look at have we lost our love and focus on our customers? Are we doing the right thing each time? Are we making mistakes and then perpetuating them? … But good lessons will flow from that,” he says.

Gonski also remembers watching the bank’s staff being questioned in the Royal Commission and being impressed the ANZ had people could be questioned so intensely and answer so “brilliantly” - including Elliott.

“They were exemplary, amazing people,” he says. “I was very taken by the performance of the ANZ people.”

Happening now

Looking forward, Gonski says a sharper focus on environmental, social and corporate governance – known as ESG - will be an obligation for both non-executive directors and executive management across all organisations and industries.

“Ultimately, if we ignore ESG we will be rightly ignored by our community,” Gonski explains. “But on the other hand, if we embrace it we're actually showing we're human. We are putting important emphasis towards important things in our lives.

“What I love about ANZ… is that we are a group of people who do have an openness of mind to look at what our society is. To putting the ideas of ESG as paramount in some circumstances and very important in others.”

Last words

Finally, Gonski shares his thoughts on ANZ’s 40,000 staff across more than 30 markets worldwide.

“I am amazed at how many great people work at ANZ. I've met many of them and there are many I haven't met but there's a consistency at ANZ of wonderful people and I think it sets us apart from other organisations,” he says.

“Long may that be the case.”

Andrew Cornell is managing editor of bluenotes

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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