Few CEOs would describe a major acquisition requiring a five-year turnaround strategy as “fun”. And even fewer would advocate for the underling leading the move to take home a salary worth twice his own.
But that’s Richard Goyder: a low-key, footy-mad, family man who heads up Australia’s largest conglomerate, Wesfarmers. He convinced his board to spend $22 billion purchasing Coles in 2007, and a further chunk of cash ensuring the man employed to make Australians load up their Coles supermarket trolley, Ian McLeod, would be handsomely rewarded for doing so.
Goyder’s now seeing the rewards. Coles is hot on the heels of Woolworths and its dominant market share of the Australian grocery spend, with the supermarket chain now responsible for a significant portion of Wesfarmers’ total earnings. And yet the unassuming Goyder, never one to be satisfied, wasn’t willing to concede they’d reached the pinnacle of success, even after declaring the process “good fun”.
“We’ll never put up a mission accomplished sign,” he told The Power Index, “we’ll leave it to others to judge.”
Such judgments are seeing once naysayers doing a mea culpa. “A lot of people had their doubts,” star stockpicker John Sevior told The Australian Financial Review last year. “He’s [Goyder] proven us wrong. It was a costly miss for us. We haven’t owned enough [stock].”
“Goyder provided Wesfarmers’ key defining moment,” corporate spinner John Connolly told The Power Index, one that took it from being a Western Australian company to a major Australian company with exposure everywhere.
Goyder’s no household name, but products purchased from the portfolio of businesses he oversees would be found in almost all Australian homes. In the kitchen alone you could find groceries from Coles, crockery from Target, grog from Liquorland and DIY from Bunnings.
The business reaches further than retail with investments in industrial supplies, resources and insurance — employing more than 220,000 people in the process. With no international offices, it’s got enough diversity to act as a “proxy for the Australian economy”, according to Forbes.
Not bad for a farming co-operative that started life in WA in 1914. Nor for its current key acquisition maker, Goyder, who grew up on a cattle and grain farm in a small town hundreds of kilometres south of Perth and was branded a “conservative choice” when he was appointed to replace Michael Chaney in 2005.
Seven years later, it’s only natural that a born and bred West Australian should feature so highly on our list of powerful Business Bosses. “I keep telling business people in Sydney, if you want to feel good, come over to Perth for a few days,” Goyder quipped.
Indeed, Goyder’s well-connected in Perth, having disappeared for long stints at a time to the eastern states only to return home again. He has a former WA premier, Alan Carpenter, looking after his corporate affairs division and he likes to back his state in politics and sport.
Formerly on the board of the Fremantle Dockers, Goyder was appointed to the AFL’s nine-person commission last year where he’s promised to push for a fairer match schedule for WA’s two teams given their travel burden exceeds all other teams in the league.
Goyder bares all the usual trademarks of an average-looking CEO. Grey-haired and in his 50s, he’s described to The Power Index as “modest”, “down to earth” and the “complete antithesis of the normal chief executive” by those who know him.
But more importantly, he’s described as a family guy. During last year’s AGM his young daughter, Sophie, sat in the front row. He became an advisory council member on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation when his youngest son was diagnosed with diabetes. He cites the fact his 19-year-old plays a competitive level of footy as being one aspect of his love for the game, when telling us how thrilled he was to be appointed to the AFL Commission.
Successfully leveraging a portfolio business — and having the nous to grow it at the same time — requires some serious multi-tasking. On the day we spoke to Goyder, we’re sandwiched between a meeting with his resources division and later with his Coles business.