The biggest shock in this morning’s CEO succession announcement from NAB was that a top 10 Australian company actually thought it was acceptable to put a home grown boy in charge.

Whilst Cameron Clyne is currently in Auckland running NAB’s New Zealand operations, he grew up in Sydney and made his name as the youngest ever Australian partner of PwC.

Despite much experience working in Europe, Asia and the US for PwC and IBM Consulting, Clyne didn’t even make it into the 2008 edition of Who’s Who and at 40 is the youngest ever CEO of a top 10 Australian company.

The next youngest was David Murray who got the ComBank job at 42 and Paul Anderson who was 43 when poached to run BHP.

The market is a little underwhelmed and unfamiliar with Clyne, who will run what used to be our biggest bank but an organisation that will be relegated to number three once the Westpac-St George marriage is consummated.

The comparison with ANZ, which opted for the big name career English banker Mike Smith, is stark indeed.

The current situation of only two of the top 10 companies having Australian-born CEOs — Mike Luscombe at Woolies and Frank Lowy at Westfield — is unprecedented and no other developed country has seen anything like it.

This first started in 1992 when Westpac almost went broke and turned to Californian Bob Joss to save the bank.

Conrad Black did the same when the nutty South African Stephen Mulholland was installed to run Fairfax in 1992, but the trend really took off in the mid-1990s with Dennis Eck at Coles Myer and George Trumbull at AMP.

Bob Joss was the only unqualified success from that initial group and the most dramatic example came in 1998 when Don Argus ascended to the throne at BHP and John Prescott was sacked after a dreadful seven years in charge.

The BHP board poached American Paul Anderson from Duke Energy and have subsequently had four successive expat CEOs over the past decade.

With John Stewart now leaving NAB under a cloud and John McFarlane’s record at ANZ being trashed by the Opes Prime and Chimaera capital fiascos, the overall record of the expat crew is decidedly mixed.

Others that didn’t work out include Brian Gilbertson at BHP, Keith Lambert at Southcorp, Chris Tideman at David Jones, Paul Anthony at AGL, CK Chow at Brambles and Bob Browning at Alinta.

The biggest success stories have included Les Owen at Axa Asia Pacific, Peter Kirby at CSR, Jeremy Sutcliffe at Sims Group and the BHP due of Chip Goodyear at Paul Anderson.

The jury is still out on the likes of Woodside’s forever whinging Don Voelte, BHP’s empire building Marius Kloppers and ComBank’s Kiwi chief Ralph Norris.

Whilst Australians are shunned from big Australian jobs, check out this list of the most successful Australians offshore.

Peter Fray

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