Australian chairs getting busier and less independent

By Stephen Mayne
November 12, 2022

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 had changed dramatically, with only Strong and Johnson still chairing the same two companies. Charles Goode has just retired from Woodside, although he pressed 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 recreated Kraehe as an offender because the former Southcorp CEO became the new Brambles chair.

However, as of 2007-08, there were 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 meant we had 13 blokes who were chairing 26 of our top 150 companies.

Fast forward to 2023 and these are the directors chairing two ASX150 companies.

John Gillam: the former Bunnings CEO has been chair of CSR since 2018 and chair of Nufarm since 2020.

Interestingly, it is far more common to only have one major chairing gig these days and here are some examples of that:

Malcolm Broomhead: the former North CEO has reduced his workload after Asciano was taken over and is now just chair of Orica and a director of BHP.
Craig Drummond: chair of Transurban but apart from that is only on the AFIC board and is President of Geelong Football Club.
Simon Jones: chair of Computershare since 2015 but serves on no other public company boards.
Paul O'Malley: the former Bluescope Steel CEO limits himself to being chair of CBA and a director of Coles.
Glenn Stevens: the former RBA Governor is chair of Macquarie Group but doesn't sit on any other public company boards.