The men and women at the top of the country’s largest organisations can make decisions that affect an incredible number of people: employees, shareholders, customers and suppliers among them. They can also get the government of the day to pay attention.

This week, we start counting down the country’s top 10 most powerful CEOs and chairmen. Here, we present the shortlist:

Alan Joyce, CEO, Qantas Airways

The Irishman claimed the dramatic October 2011 move to ground Qantas’ entire fleet in response to industrial action was “his decision absolutely”. It may not have won over the people, but Joyce’s choice to take on the unions made the airline chief a corporate folk hero.

Anthony Pratt, chair, Visy Industries

There’s no bigger name in recycling than Pratt. And there’s no corporate character more recognisable than the ginger-haired Anthony who, with Visy acquisitions in the pipeline, now looks set to dominate the market even more than his late father Richard did.

Catherine Livingstone, chair, Telstra

Conservatism has marked Catherine Livingstone’s time at Telstra, but she’s put her connections to good use by helping the telco secure support for its role in the NBN rollout. The former accountant also holds numerous directorships, including for Macquarie and WorleyParsons.

David Gonski, chair, Future Fund

David Gonski is corporate Australia’s Mr. Teflon: nothing sticks for long, such as the controversy over his appointment to run the $77 billion Future Fund. It helps that he’s smart, humble and the country’s most well-connected businessman.

Elmer Funke Kupper, CEO, ASX

He’s got the best sounding name in Australian business, and he’s showing all the signs that he was the right choice to drive business development at the ASX. Funke Kupper may emerge as the wildcard in our list of the top 10, with the former Tabcorp CEO quickly initiating an agenda at the ASX that’s readying the exchange for competition in the region.

Frank Lowy, chair, Westfield

He’s the man who showed us how to shop, and he’s not giving any signs of telling us to stop. He took on a non-executive role at the retail group in 2011, but only after laying the foundations for further global expansion and ensuring the sun never sets on the shopping centre empire.

Ian Mcleod, CEO, Coles

Mcleod is finally putting rival Woolworths on the defensive. The man Coles imported from the UK is proving he’s worth his enormous salary package by making some progress on the price war between the country’s two largest supermarkets chains which, between them, control 70% of the Australian grocery market.

James Strong, chair, Woolworths and Kathmandu

The bowtie-wearing cycling enthusiast has been making tough calls at Woolworths of late, having installed a new CEO and led the retailer’s big move into the home improvement market. Now, he’s calling for big business to get its act together on “frightening and unnecessary” levels of director liability, among other things.

Michael Chaney, chair, NAB and Woodside Petroleum

Chaney can certainly handle a mixed portfolio, from banking to energy and education. His diversified duties see him regularly called upon to beat the drum for big business. The son of Sir Fred, a minister in the Menzies government, he’s also got Canberra connections running through his blood.

Mike Devereux, chair, Holden

The former engineer must have known what he was in for when, in early 2010, he became Holden’s third chairman in just two years. Earlier this year, Devereux’s extracted $275 million from the federal government to keep Holden’s South Australian plant running, and promised to keep manufacturing cars in this country until at least 2022.

Mike Smith, CEO, ANZ

The big British banker knows Asia is Australia’s future, and he’s making sure Australians — and more importantly his bank — are there to leverage the upcoming opportunities. However, it was Smith’s bold move in December to declare that ANZ would make interest rate decisions independently of the RBA that really showed his clout.

Sally Macdonald, CEO, OrotonGroup Ltd

Macdonald is a beacon of hope for a “lost at sea” retail sector. Her good ideas, leadership and expansion into Asia have enabled the luxury accessories brand to thrive through turbulent times, leaving many of Macdonald’s competitors wondering just what she’s doing right.

*Read the full story at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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