We need better directors so who are the good ones. Let’s try and rank Australia’s best and worst directors.
Australia’s 15 best non-executive directors:
Tim Besley: even though Crikey is no fan of the Silver Fox’s imperious manner you have to acknowledge that his performance at Leightons and The Commonwealth Bank over the years was good in financial terms.
David Clarke: The Macquarie Bank executive chairman is a not strictly a non-executive but the bank’s performance has been outstanding. And while Goodman Fielder battled during his latter years as chairman, Brian McGuigan Wines has prospered.
John Cloney: Ran QBE very well as MD then became QBE chairman and has been a director on Brambles and Cable & Wireless Optus.
Frank Conroy: The former Westpac CEO actually runs due diligence before taking a board seat and has been good for St George and will hopefully do well with Santos while Howard Smith did well with Frank on the board.
Leon Davis: Did a good job running Rio Tinto and now chairs Westpac whilst staying on as a NED with Rio.
Colin Harper: Crikey likes a director who can sack a CEO and Harper was one of the gang of three who belatedly booted Will Bailey out of ANZ back in 1992. He chaired CSL for many years which was one of the standout companies and did a good job on North from 1984 till 1997. He was on a whole bunch of blue blood board through the 70s and 80s such as the Herald & Weekly Times, Carlton and United Breweries, EZ Industries, APPM and Humes. Whilst retired now, Crikey bumped into Harper and his wife at the races a couple of years back and he was gloating about the number of CEOs he’d sacked, an attribute we admire.
James Kennedy: Undoubtedly the best director to have come out of Queensland. Gave MIM the flick in less than a year after seeing what a disaster it was and headed the Queensland Investment Corporation well for years before resigning after some government interference. The ASX monpolists have prospered with Jim on board, as has Qantas, Suncorp Metway and the Commonwealth Bank. The only blot is Pacific Dunlop but he had 10 good years and six bad in a 16-year stint that ended in 1997 before it really went pear-shaped. Not a bad effort for an accountant.
Graeme Kraehe: It is still relatively early days but Graeme did well with Southcorp as CEO and now has some real blue-chip boards in Brambles, News Corp and the soon to be floated BHP Steel.
Linda Nicholls: Is the Australia Post chairwoman Australia’s best performed non-executive director? Healthscope is up from 30c to $2.75 since she joined whilst Perpetual has gone from $10 to $50 and Sigma from $1.50 to $4.50. However, she arguably cost the TAC $300 million with a hedging decision but she’s in good company in failing to pick the plunging dollar.
Gary Pemberton: Ran Brambles very well and then chaired Qantas and the NSW TAB successfully before getting seriously rich buying into and chairing Billabong.
Michael Robinson: Crikey admires a director who will resign on a matter of principle and the Melbourne managing partner of Arthur Robs did exactly that with Kerry Stokes’s Seven Network in 1996 as he was uncomfortable with the Stokes influence. Ironically, Stokes has lifted his corporate governance performance since then, if anything to prove Robinson wrong. Whilst we hate gambling companies, Tabcorp has done well under Michael’s chairmanship and we liked the way he pulled out of the reform ticket at Coles Myer when he felt that the retention of Solly Lew and Mark Leibler on the board would not work. Gandel Retail trust is another that has done well with Michael on board although John Gandel does rip out excessive fees.
John Ralph: Despite the absolute disaster that has been Pacific Dunlop, John did a good job as CEO of the old CRA and his other directorships, Foster’s, CBA and Telstra, have all done pretty well so he just sneaks on.
James Strong: It is still early days but Strong did well with Qantas and should be fine as chairman at NRMA and Woolworths despite being a little undemocratic.
Frank Swan: ran Cadbury Schweppes in Australia and also sat on the parent company’s board. Now has a good portfolio as chairman of Foster’s and a director of National Foods and the Commonwealth Bank.
Dick Warburton: Despite all the problems with DJs, Dick is an excellent director from what Crikey can tell although he’s got far too many directorships.
Crikey subscribers will be assembling the list of our 10 worst directors to go with this so why not subscribe now to be part of this process. At this stage, the only definites on the duds list will be the Prime Minister’s older brother Stan Howard, Rupert’s former Australian lieutenant Ken Cowley, Pasminco, Mayne and former NAB chairman Mark Rayner and former Tubemakers CEO Tony Daniels. All contributions gratefully received.