Our top 10 most powerful CEOs and chairs are not a portrait of diversity.
They’re all men. They’re all white. They’re all of a similar age — with the exception of 81-year-old Rupert Murdoch — and they all share similar characteristics and backgrounds.
They also share some common themes in their leadership style, which may be revealing when it comes to what takes any man to the helm of a major organisation. There’s a little bit of modesty for most, a measured and controlled approach for some and a whole lot of give-it-to-me-now attitude for all.
But more telling than anything is how taking on yet more duties or more board positions is never an issue for these powerful types. We wonder when they actually sleep.
We’ve limited this list to individuals who are either the CEO of a major organisation or a chairperson — who can consequently also hold directorships on multiple other boards.
They are people who have proven they can, or whom we believe could, exert their power in practically any organisation, during the term of any government and across any industry. They’re industry folk heroes whose clout carries ability, connections, charm and the tenacity to get what’s needed.
They steer organisations with significant market capital and a diverse range of workers. Their decisions affect shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers. Their abilities are enhanced by their level of political sway.
But not all the obvious contenders make this list.
There are some, such as the Commonwealth Bank’s freshly minted CEO Ian Narev, who are too new to rate. There are others, such as Westpac’s Gail Kelly, who appear to be gearing up to leave their current positions, having spent a good majority of their careers within the one industry.
And there are others still at the behest of difficult market conditions affecting their sectors, who simply haven’t, or cannot, make the necessary changes for their organisations — particularly those in retail, such as Gerry Harvey at Harvey Norman, Solomon Lew at Premier Investments and Myer’s Bernie Brooks.
Then there are those who deliver more noise than actual results by blaming their difficulties on the Gillard government while failing to find the necessary remedies for fixing their sick share price.
This is not a list of the most popular people in business. Nor is it a list of the individuals most respected by the general Australian population.
This is about using one’s position — be it as a CEO or chair — to exert power in business. And in business, as some such as Alan Joyce well know, popularity is not a means to an end.
And, as already established, this list is not about diversity. There are very few women in the CEO and chair positions of the country’s largest organisations. The statistics speak for themselves: only 2.5% of ASX 200 boards have a female chair, and only 3% have a female CEO.
To have included even one woman in this list would have skewed the top 10 to make corporate Australia seem far less male-dominated than it is.