Australia’s 25 most powerful business bosses

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. Here’s our shortlist of the country’s most powerful CEOs and chairpeople.

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 holds numerous directorships, including Macquarie and WorleyParsons, and is a key voice and advocate for getting more women on boards.

Belinda Hutchinson, chair, QBE Insurance Group

Hutchinson’s experience is as diverse as it gets: having served on boards ranging from Telstra to Coca Cola and Energy Australia. Now at the helm of QBE Insurance, she’s found time on the side as head of Chief Executive Women to spearhead unique initiatives for getting more women into leadership positions.

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.

David Thodey, CEO, Telstra

Thodey’s a man in demand, and he knows how to place himself safely in the eye of a political shitstorm. He’s got control of the infrastructure necessary for the rollout of a broadband network – whether that is the government’s or Malcolm Turnbull’s idea of which plan is worth the price.

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 ten, 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.

Gail Kelly, CEO, Westpac

Gail Kelly’s done the unthinkable: she’s told her fellow business leaders to back off in their criticisms of the Prime Minister. Still, her ability to use her position may be on the wane with some suggesting Kelly is already training her likely successor, Brian Hartzer, for the top job.

Gerry Harvey, chair, Harvey Norman

His business may be ailing but Harvey’s not going down without a fight. He and his wife, Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page, are determined to prove there’s a lot more to lose if Australians continue with international online transactions than tax revenue – turning the campaign into one about jobs, product quality and building better parks and roads.

Graham Turner, CEO, Flight Centre

This CEO doesn’t mind a battle; Turner’s already issued a “bring it on” to the ACCC regarding accusations of price fixing. The former veterinarian has continually adapted with the times from starting bus touring company Top Deck to Flight Centre’s original shop front business, and now its online presence. He will no doubt find ways to adapt to its current fix too.

Ian Mcleod, CEO, Coles

Mcleod’s 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.

Ian Narev, CEO, Commonwealth Bank

Who can? Ian Narev can. And just as he’s claiming ‘it’s time for can’ with the Commonwealth Bank’s latest marketing strategy, Narev’s clearly out to show he’s a worthy successor to the bank’s previous CEO, Ralph Norris. But barely six months into the top job, it’s too early to rate his ability to use his position.

Jac Nasser, chair, BHP Billiton

He’s got a voice in the national debate and Nasser’s using it to devastating effect, having recently launched an all-out attack on the Gillard government over industrial relations and taxation. But the move showed he’s on the back foot; for a man at the centre of the mining boom, his company’s share price is not exactly skyrocketing.

James Packer, chair, Crown

His enemies may be trying, but there’s little sign of James Packer’s mission to “Crownify” Australia and spread his gambling empire across the continent coming to a halt. He’s spending billions on his Perth and Melbourne casinos and is now vying to take over the casino licence for Sydney from Echo Entertainment, and build a super casino on the forthcoming Barangaroo development in the city.

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.

Jillian Broadbent, chair, Clean Energy Finance Corporation

Broadbent’s going big on advocating that Australia must act on climate change, or risk being at the mercy of a “vulnerable” economy. Having just undertaken her review of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will see $10 billion in taxes allocated to clean energy projects, the RBA board member’s now playing politics in a bid to have her findings heard.

Marius Kloppers, CEO, BHP Billiton

He’s got one advantage over the rest of them – he’s at the helm of the country’s largest company – but Kloppers shows his teeth by often making the first move. He was the first to tear down the mining tax, first to put an end to fixed annual contract prices for iron ore and, earlier this year, got in first to close Queensland’s Norwich Park coal mine.

Michael Chaney, chair, NAB and Woodside Petroleum

Michael 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.

Michael Malone, CEO, iiNet

iiNet’s founding partner and chief executive took on Hollywood and won – three times. He may only head up the third largest ISP, but his determination to stand firm against 34 movie studios and TV production companies attempting to force iiNet to police piracy may finally see lawmakers bring copyright law into the 21st century.

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.

Richard Goyder, CEO, Wesfarmers

The man who convinced Wesfarmers to acquire Coles still sits at the top of the food chain that has the largest number of employees in Australia eating from it. That means Goyder gets a voice on issues like superannuation, industrial relations and the productivity debate.

Rupert Murdoch, chair, News Ltd

At 81, Rupert Murdoch recently elbowed out his right hand man in Australia and announced himself as News Ltd’s new chair – a decision that is still having ripple-down effects on the local arm of his massive media empire.

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.

This article first appeared on The Power Index.

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