While Australia’s poor record in producing globally successfully businesses has improved a little in recent years, the opposite is happening on the question of individual Australians rising up the ranks of multinational companies.

The crop of globally prominent Australian CEOs that emerged over the past decade was quite staggering as you can see from the following list:

Australia’s Magnificent Seven CEOs – 2000-05

Douglas Daft, Coca Cola: 2000-04

Charlie Bell, McDonalds: 2004

Geoffrey Bible, Philip Morris: 1995-2002

Philip Bowman, Allied Domecq: 1999-2005

Rod Eddington, British Airways: 2000-05

Jac Nasser, Ford: 1998-2001

Bob Bishop, Silicon Graphics: 2000-06

However, things seem to have dropped off a little. Both Jac Nasser and Douglas Daft had difficult tenures leading Ford and Coke respectably and Charlie Bell didn’t even see out a year as McDonald’s CEO before he was struck down by cancer in 2004.

The current list of our best performers is still pretty impressive, but we’ve only got four prominent CEOs at the moment so the list is padded with blokes who head operations or finance:

Australia’s Magnificent Seven – 2007

David Mackay – Kellogg’s CEO

Philip Bowman – Scottish Power CEO

Doug Flynn – Rentokil CEO

Peter Tomsett – Placer Dome CEO

Doug Elix – IBM global sales and distribution boss

Clive Standish – UBS CFO

Richard Goodmanson – Du Pont COO

David Mackay got the Kellogg’s gig last December to be a new global flagbearer and Doug Elix is the one to watch as some observers tip he’ll be a future global CEO of IBM.

The other remarkable statistic on the question of expat CEOs came with the appointment of Kiwi Ralph Norris to replace David Murray as head of the Commonwealth Bank last year. This meant that for the first time, Australia’s five biggest companies by market capitalisation are run by foreigners:

Chip Goodyear (USA) – BHP-Billiton

Sol Trujillo (USA) – Telstra

John Stewart (UK) – National Australia Bank

John Macfarlane (UK) – ANZ

Ralph Norris (NZ) – CommBank

However, this is not a phenomenon that goes down the line because there are only 15 foreign CEOs in the top 100 ASX-listed companies. That said, there is no other developed country which has had to import CEOs to run its five biggest companies.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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