Australian Financial Review
February 8, 2019

High-profile global bankers looking to return home have emerged as candidates to replace National Australia Bank boss Andrew Thorburn, as investors and analysts push the board to look past short-odd internal favourite Mike Baird.

Former NAB executive and Medibank boss Craig Drummond is being backed as a favourite while another former NAB executive, former St George Bank CEO and Westpac executive George Frazis, has been touted as the right fit.

Global recruiters pointed to Australians potentially looking to return home including the Australian CEO of British private bank Coutts, Peter Flavel and New Zealand banker and long-time CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland Ross McEwan, an early frontrunner to replace Ian Narev at CBA two years ago.

One leading proxy adviser warned the danger in a global executive is the CEO pay would “need to be huge” and potentially spark a fresh public backlash.

The right candidate would also need to be enticed, with one leading CEO candidate privately describing the job as a “poisoned chalice”.


The NAB board is believed to be reviewing whether to again use headhunter Russell Reynolds. Recruiter Greg Robinson said while they could “play it safe and go for another banker” the board should think outside the box and consider a proven change agent, with another observer suggesting Qantas CEO Alan Joyce should be on the list.

Phil Chronican remains a “dark horse” in the CEO race after stepping off the NAB board to assume the role of acting CEO. However, most consider him a “safe pair of hands” and favourite to become the bank’s chairman. Others, including Gail Kelly, David Morgan and John McFarlane, could be considered as NAB chairman.

Mr Chronican is expected to work with outgoing chairman Ken Henry to pick the new CEO and the former ANZ executive is understood to know the former CEO of Goldman Sachs JB Were and country head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Mr Drummond, well.

Investors and analysts are urging a “clean brush” and CLSA’s veteran banking analyst Brian Johnson is among those backing Mr Drummond because he “knows what needs to be done”.

Former NSW Premier Mike Baird – who friend Mr Thorburn has said would make a great successor – remains the internal favourite at NAB given his proven leadership record and strong advocacy and communication skills.

After being conscripted by Mr Thorburn in 2017, Mr Baird hasn’t been at the bank long enough to be seriously tainted by the royal commission although the push for an external candidate and a query over his banking experience could prove a bar.

Long shots

Other internal NAB candidates are head of business and private banking Anthony Healy, current CFO Garry Lennon, who recently stood in as CEO, while boss of NAB’s Bank of New Zealand Angela Mentis is considered an outside chance.

NAB’s chief operating officer, Antony Cahill, was a front runner before packing up to return to the UK in August last year, shortly before NAB executive Andrew Hagger resigned following his appearance before Hayne.

Former Australian head of NAB and Australia Post boss Ahmed Fahour, now CEO of Latitude Financial, is among another group considered a long shot.

Chief operating officer at ANZ Jeremy Dean, NSW Treasury secretary Mike Pratt, Westpac executive Lyn Cobley, CBA director Rob Whitfield, former Westpac executive Rob Coombe and Suncorp CEO Michael Cameron have also been mentioned.

The Melbourne CEO of Morgan Stanley in the US, James Gorman, recently said he was keen to return home to take a local role but insiders said it would be too soon to leave his current post.

London-based headhunters said NAB would prove an attractive proposition to British executives because of the cultural fit or for Australians ready to come home.

“I’d have thought you’d have rich pickings right now, because at the moment everything’s pretty rosy in Australia economically whereas here you’ve got Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn,” one recruiter said.

Mr Flavel’s name came up several times while another place to look for NAB-related experience in Britain would be Clydesdale & Yorkshire Bank, owned by NAB until it was spun off into a separate dual-listed company in 2016.

Irishman David Duffy has been the chief executive since mid-2015 and led the bank through the NAB break-up. He has been CEO of Standard Bank International and of Allied Irish Banks, where he engineered a turnaround after its post-GFC bailout.

Article by Patrick Durkin and Hans van Leeuwen


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