ANZ Board Minutes: flying 20 minutes ahead of the plane

Shareholders should want their board to look like the cockpit of an A380 aircraft, according to ANZ’s new chairman Paul O’Sullivan. It should be a place where people aren’t just responding to immediate events but – to use an aviation phrase – are "flying 20 minutes ahead of the plane".

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Pic: Andrew Cornell (left) and Paul O'Sullivan at ANZ's Melbourne headquarters on the morning of the bank's AGM

“As a board, we're required to act in the long-term interests of the business with regard to shareholders, customers, staff and key parts of the community,” O’Sullivan explained on a podcast with bluenotes on the morning of the bank’s first ever virtual Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Melbourne.

"If you're a shareholder, you want your boardroom to be like the cockpit of an A380. People aren’t just responding to immediate events but - to use the aviation phrase - are flying 20 minutes ahead of the plane.” – O’Sullivan

“I don’t think there's a tension between the interests of [these groups] but there is a difference between short-term and longer-term interests. In the short-term, there are certain things people would like you to do. But if as a board you're acting in the long-term interests of the business, your decisions are very clear and they should ultimately be good for everyone.”

Click here for a transcript of this podcast

O’Sullivan says having this long-term focus has helped ANZ remain in a strong position while dealing with the COVID-19 crisis across all its markets.

“The work done over the last four years on capital structure has positioned us in a very good place,” he says. “But that didn't happen overnight. That happened with a lot of work by a lot of people over the last four years to be very selective about whom we bank, to make decisions about disposing of assets, to think about what business we would invest in.”

In the wide-ranging conversation, O’Sullivan touched on the issue of climate change, undoubtedly a hot topic at the AGM.

“Some shareholders think we're moving too slowly and others feel we shouldn't be getting involved at all,” O’Sullivan says. “I'm a businessman. If I wanted to go into politics, I would have taken a different career path. This is not about the politics of climate, it's a business decision.”

O’Sullivan says it's clear the global economy is moving to a low carbon future which creates huge opportunity for ANZ to provide finance for investment in the transition.

“At its heart, banking is about customer relationships and risk. It's about making decisions on where to allocate capital to take advantage of opportunities but [always] taking into account the risk,” he says. 

“The community is looking at things like climate science and saying, 'we've just seen a black swan event - a pandemic. It was predicted for many years by scientists. Maybe we need to think about the fact that the unexpected could happen in other areas'.”

“I think taking into account things we traditionally might have seen as being beyond our bailiwick will be important.”

You can hear more of the conversation in the podcast above.

In November 2019, Paul O’Sullivan joined ANZ’s Board as an Independent Non-Executive Director. He was appointed incoming Chairman in October 2020 when David Gonski announced his retirement from the Board. O’Sullivan has extensive experience in the telecommunications, banking and oil and gas sectors, including senior executive roles with Singtel and as CEO of Optus. He sat down with bluenotes managing editor Andrew Cornell on the morning of the bank’s 2020 Annual General Meeting as part of the Board Minutes series to discuss responding to the COVID-19 crisis, long-term management for shareholders and the importance of a community focus.

Andrew Cornell is managing editor of bluenotes

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

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