Chaney not showing any signs of slowing

18/05/2015 - 10:06

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Michael Chaney’s return to Wesfarmers confirms his standing as the most influential company director in WA. Click through to see our listing of the 12 Most Influential company directors in WA.

Michael Chaney will make his return to Wesfarmers as chair-elect in June.

Michael Chaney’s return to Wesfarmers confirms his standing as the most influential company director in WA.

What do you do when you’ve turned 65 and achieved everything imaginable in your business career?

If you are Michael Chaney, you take on a new role.

The man dubbed ‘Saint Michael’ because of his outstanding track record as managing director of Wesfarmers will be returning to the Perth conglomerate in June as chairman-elect.

He told Business News he had no plans to slow down.

“I enjoy it too much,” Mr Chaney said, adding that he was amused recently to read he was approaching the twilight of his career.

“I feel very energetic,” he said. “I’ll continue until I find that it’s not stimulating.”

Mr Chaney has an open mind about how long he will continue at Wesfarmers, saying he will be up for re-election every three years like every other director.

He also dismissed suggestions that his appointment fell short of best practice standards in corporate governance.

“I’ve never met anyone who thought that returning after 10 years was a problem,” Mr Chaney said.

The new role at Wesfarmers will keep Mr Chaney at the forefront of business, not just in Western Australia, but nationally.

He will be chairman of WA’s two largest companies, Wesfarmers and Woodside Petroleum, while also continuing as chancellor of the University of Western Australia.

His influence on the national stage is indicated by several notable advisory roles.

Mr Chaney is one of 12 members, and the only Western Australian, on the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, which was established in late 2013.

Mr Chaney is one of five business representatives on the Commonwealth Science Council, which had its first meeting last November.

A recent addition to his resume was joining the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, which Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in April, after the idea emerged from discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at last year’s G20 summit.

Mr Chaney said he was invited by the prime minister to take these roles, but none of them signalled a strategic shift in his career.

“You get involved where you think you can make a difference,” he said.

Experience

Mr Chaney spent 22 years as an executive at Wesfarmers, serving as managing director from 1992 to 2005.

During that period, he also spent 10 years as a director of BHP (later BHP Billiton).

Over the past decade, his main roles have been chairing National Australia Bank and Woodside. He plans to retire from NAB at its annual general meeting later this year and expects to retire from Woodside when his term expires in 2017.

His other roles include chairing the Wesfarmers-backed private equity group Gresham Partners and being a director of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Good company

As chairman of Wesfarmers and Woodside, Mr Chaney will serve alongside many of Perth’s top company directors (see graphic).

The Wesfarmers board includes Tony Howarth, who is one of WA’s most respected directors, former Alcoa of Australia boss Wayne Osborn, and Diane Smith-Gander, who has been a vocal advocate for getting more women into boardrooms.

She will find a supportive chairman in Mr Chaney, who spoke this month at the Australian launch of international diversity movement, 30% Club.

Like the Australian Institute of Company Directors, it is aiming to achieve 30 per cent female representation on S&P/ASX 200 boards by 2018.

Wesfarmers is one of only four WA companies, along with Fortescue Metals Group, Navitas and Liquefied Natural Gas, to already meet the 30 per cent figure.

Woodside falls short, with two women on its 10-member board.

That puts it ahead of many others; among the 20 WA companies in the S&P/ASX 200 index, women fill 15.7 per cent of board positions.

The Woodside board includes Gene Tilbrook, who was formerly Wesfarmers finance director, and former PwC partner Frank Cooper.

BHP spin-off South32 recently tapped Mr Cooper and Wayne Osborn to join its board.

Frank Cooper and Wayne Osborn will sit on the board of South32. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Other recent appointments include Fiona Harris becoming chair of Toro Energy and former Chevron executive Colin Beckett becoming chair of both Western Power and Perth Airport.

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