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Directing the corporate traffic

IF there is one businessperson in Perth who stands out for their rapid rise to prominence over the past year it is Neil Hamilton.

Mr Hamilton has gone from a moderately well-known company director to being the public face of Western Power, which is under more pressure than any other major business in the State.

Mr Hamilton became chairman of Western Power in February, after his predecessor, Malcolm Macpherson, resigned in response to the State’s power crisis.

The resignation of managing director Stephen van der Mye would have placed even more pressure on Mr Hamilton.

The drama surrounding Western Power has overshadowed the fact Mr Hamilton took up a second major board position last month, as chairman of mining company Sons of Gwalia.

That is in addition to his ongoing roles as chairman of LandCorp, chairman of labour hire company Integrated Group, and director of Sydney-based Insurance Australia Group.

This collection of board positions not only makes Mr Hamilton an extremely busy person, it also makes him one of the most influential company directors in Western Australia.

Another influential director is Tony Howarth, who is chairman of Alinta, Home Building Society and the not-for-profit St John of God Health Care Group, and is a director of Mermaid Marine.

Mr Howarth’s great strength is the support and encouragement he has provided to Alinta’s management over the past two years of rapid growth.

Pursuing rapid growth via complex deals is inherently risky, yet Alinta, led by managing director Bob Browning, has so far been applauded for its deal-making acumen.

Mr Howarth has hinted that he wants Home to also actively pursue growth opportunities, but first it has to find a replacement for short-lived chief executive David Jones, who returned to Melbourne earlier this year.

Trevor Eastwood was a highly successful managing director of Wesfarmers during the 1980s.

A decade after retiring, he is back as chairman of the conglomerate, which is WA’s largest industrial company. He is also a director of Qantas and last year joined the board of privately owned Perron Group, as part of the succession plan for Stan Perron.

Another Wesfarmers protege is Erich Fraunschiel, who retired two years ago after serving as finance director during about 10 years of outstandingly successful growth.

The high regard in which Mr Fraunschiel is held can be judged by the quality of the board positions he has accepted.

He is a director of Woodside, Foodland, WA Newspapers, Worley and Rabobank Australia, and chairman of Wesfarmers Insurance.

Warwick Kent and Ian Mackenzie also went from successful executive careers, with BankWest and Bunnings respectively, to prominent board roles.

John Poynton has followed a different path, combining his ongoing corporate finance work (until recently with Poynton and Partners) with an increasing collection of board roles.

He joined the board of Multiplex last year ahead of its stock market float, adding to his board roles at Alinta and Austal.

Mr Poynton and his business partner, Mark Barnaba, are planning to establish a new corporate advisory business that will focus on helping emerging Australian businesses raise capital and tackle the global market.

Gordon Martin does not have a high public profile yet he also holds an influential position.

He is the chairman and majority owner of Coogee Chemicals, was a co-founder and is still chairman of WA’s largest venture capital firm, Foundation Capital, is a director of Burswood and until last year was a director of engineering group United.

Peter Mansell, who recently retired as managing partner of law firm Freehills, is another profe-ssional director who just missed the cut for our most influential list.

He is chairman of mining company Zinifex (formerly Pasminco) and a director of JDV and WA Newspapers.

The most prominent female director in Perth is Fiona Harris, who sits on the boards of Alinta, Burswood, Portman and HBF.

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