Australia’s wonder woman

Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly is the ninth most powerful woman in the world, according to a new report from Forbes magazine in the US, which compiles an annual list of the world’s most powerful females.

While power lists always have to be taken with a grain of salt – it isn’t exactly an easy thing to measure – the release of the list after yesterday’s report on the deplorable state of female representation at the top levels of Australian business is something to cheer about.

That one of Australia’s leading female executives has been recognised in a global forum like this is no small accolade.

While some will have quibbles with the other rankings on the list – Kelly is listed behind singer Lady Ga Ga, in front of Beyoncé and way in front of our first female Prime Minster, Julia Gillard, who ranked 58th – Forbes has attempted to summarise Kelly’s influence.

“Kelly’s every statement and opinion – public or otherwise – is reported minutely, occasionally provoking national controversy,” Forbes says.

That might be overstating the amount of attention the average Australian pays to our bank executives, but the central point is correct – few executives have as big an impact on the Australian economy as Kelly does, given her power over funding for households and businesses.

It is also worth noting that Kelly is one of only three company executives in the top 10; Kraft chief executive Irene Rosenfeld, who led a hostile $US18 billion takeover of Britain’s Cadbury came in at number second, while PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi came in at second place.

That deservedly puts Kelly in some very rarefied company.

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