Australian Financial Review
October 3, 2016

The departure of a host of chief financial officers at top companies including Vocus, Tatts Group, Fortescue Metals, Cochlear, Brambles and Fletcher Building after the end of the financial year comes as boards face pressure from investors to find growth in a tough economy.

Last year was described as a “killing season” for CEOs after 36 of our top 200 companies – close to 20 per cent – replaced their CEOs in the largest ever exodus of CEOs in Australia including Santos chief executive David KnoxWoolworths chief executive Grant O’BrienMyers’ Bernie BrookesTelstra’s David ThodeyNAB’s Cameron Clyne and Westpac’s Gail Kelly.

This year is shaping up as equally tough for CFOs as broader management teams come under pressure in the search for growth. Recruiters warn the departure of the CFO can often be the first sign that the CEO is under pressure as boards position themselves to have the right succession plans in place.

“With volatile stock markets and an uncertain world economy greater focus will be given to the credentials of the incoming CFOs as part of a broader succession planning strategy,” the managing partner of executive search firm Blenheim Partners, Gregory Robinson, said.

There has been an increasing trend for CFOs to rise to CEO, including Richard Goyder at Wesfarmers, Andrew Penn at Telstra, Paul O’Malley at Bluescope Steel, Grant Fenn at Downer, Michael Cameron at Suncorp, Scott Charlton at Transurban, Peter Allen at Scentre Group and Graham Kerr at South32, and most recently Frank Calabria at Origin.

The departure of financial chiefs announced last week included Vocus Communications CFO Rick Correll, who has tendered his resignation but will remain for the next few months until a successor is found. Vocus and Amcom completed a $1.2 billion merger before the combined group completed a $3.8 billion merger with M2 Group, which is now led by former M2 CEO Geoff Horth.

Tatts Group’s Neale O’Connell resigned as Group CFO effective February 2017. Brendan Parnell has also been appointed as CFO of Tatts Group Wagering Business from the end of November.

Fortescue Metals CFO Stephen Pearce will resign from the company at the end of the year. Greg Lilleyman has also been appointed to the role of director, operations from January 1, 2017.

SurfStitch Group’s Karen Birner has tendered her resignation as CFO and company secretary and will leave the company within the next three months.

Long-serving CFO and company secretary at Cochlear, Neville Mitchell, will retire as the end of the financial year.

Nessa O’Sullivan returns to Brambles as CFO after her time at Coca-Cola Amatil on October 10 this year. Incumbent CFO Zlatko Todorcevski has decided to retire but will remain with the company until February 2017 to facilitate a smooth transition. Brambles CEO Tom Gorman has announced his retirement to be replaced by packaging executive Graham Chipchase in March next year.

Fletcher Building’s Gerry Bollman has also resigned as CFO and will be replaced by group general manager, strategy and corporate development Bevan McKenzie from the end of December 2016.

The other significant move last week was the appointment of current Oil Search CEO Peter Botten to join the AGL board, a trend more common in the UK than Australia. Broadspectrum CEO Graeme Hunt is also on the AGL board, one of the few other serving ASX CEOs on another board.

In other executive and board moves last week:

* BHP Billiton’s John Schubert AO will retire as a non-executive director at the conclusion of the BHP Billiton Annual General Meeting in November 2016.

* Suncorp Group’s David Carter has been appointed CEO, banking and wealth, effective September 26. Acting chief risk and legal officer Fiona Thompson will take on the position of chief risk officer and Kate Olgers has been appointed chief legal officer, from October 17.

* Aspen Group’s Joel Cann has been appointed as the Group’s CEO effective September 29.

Appointments information provided by Blenheim Partners Executive Search & Board Advisory.

Article by Patrick Durkin, BOSS Deputy Editor


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