Australian chairs getting busier and less independent

By Stephen Mayne
May 4, 2019

The Australian directors club is becoming even more concentrated with too few doing too much.

Back in 2002-03 when the ASX Corporate Governance guidelines first came out, there was an interesting decree that no one person should be the non-executive chair of two top 100 companies at the same time. The following eight gentlemen were in breach of that rule at the time by simultaneously chairing these companies:

Don Argus:
BHP-Billiton and Brambles
Charles Goode: Woodside Petroleum and ANZ
James Strong: Woolworths and Insurance Australia Group
Rick Allert: Axa Asia Pacific and Coles Myer
Mark Johnson: AGL and Macquarie Infrastructure Group
John Morschell: Leighton and Rinker
Peter Willcox: AMP and Mayne
Graham Kraehe: National Australia Bank and Bluescope Steel

Fast forward five years and things have changed dramatically, with only Strong and Johnson still chairing the same two companies. Charles Goode has just retired from Woodside, although he's pressing on at ANZ, Rick Allert has just surrendered Coles, Peter Willcox broke Mayne into two and quit AMP two years ago, Graham Kraehe was forced out of NAB in 2005 and John Morschell quit Leighton due to a conflict of interest and saw Rinker fall into Mexican hands in 2007. Don Argus has stood down as Brambles chairman to concentrate on BHP's takeover bid for Rio Tinto, but in the process he's recreated Kraehe as an offender because the former Southcorp CEO is the new Brambles boss.

However, there are 11 new entrants to this unfortunate club, including the return of Graham Kraehe, which serves to highlight how too few are doing too much in corporate Australia.

Graham Bradley: chairman of Boart Longyear since 2007 float and Stockland since 2005
Michael Chaney: chairman of National Australia Bank and Woodside Petroleum
David Clarke: non-executive chairman of Macquarie Bank since April 2007 and Goodman Group
David Crawford: replaced Frank Swan at Foster's in 2007 and still chairs Lend Lease
David Gonski: has chaired Coca-Cola Amatil since 2001 and will take over from Maurice Newman at ASX this year
Graham Kraehe: chairman of Bluescope Steel and Brambles
Peter Mansell: chairman of Zinifex and WA News
Kevin McCann: chairman of Healthscope and Origin Energy
Don Mercer: has chaired Orica since 2001 but also took over as Newcrest chair in 2006
Bob Savage: chairman of Perpetual and David Jones
John Storey: took over as Tabcorp chairman in 2007 and still chairing Suncorp after Promina takeover.

This means we now have 13 blokes who chair 26 of our top 150 companies. The Australian directors club is about 30 quality independent directors short. We also need to find about 15 current members who can step up into chairing gigs.