14/05/2008 - 22:00

Freehills’ Atkins new ANZ WA chair

14/05/2008 - 22:00

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FROM the outside, John Atkins’ decision to quit his five-year leadership role at law firm Freehills to join a bank appears a significant change in trajectory.

Freehills’ Atkins new ANZ WA chair

FROM the outside, John Atkins' decision to quit his five-year leadership role at law firm Freehills to join a bank appears a significant change in trajectory.

But Mr Atkins says that couldn't be further from the truth.

"In fact, they want me to keep on doing what I am doing now," he said of his new bosses at the Melbournebased bank ANZ.

Mr Atkins will become ANZ's Western Australian chairman in a shift that he believes is far less profound than it sounds.

Following the footsteps of Tony Howarth, who chaired Westpac in WA for years after it absorbed the locallybased Challenge Bank that he had run, Mr Atkins said the role will be very much about helping ANZ stay across government and business in the state and build stronger relationships.

The Commonwealth Bank, which recently held its role as the state government's banker following a review period, had a less formal version of this role until last year in the form of WA resident and director Warwick Kent, the former managing director of BankWest.

Mr Atkins said it was about "helping the guys go to market and create business", something that is very much part of the role he will leave at Freehills in the next couple of months.

In something of a coincidental local connection, his counterpart in Sydney is Warwick Smith, the former Howard Government cabinet minister who also chairs the advisory board of Kerry Stokes' private empire, Australian Capital Equity Pty Ltd.

Mr Smith was the first such appointment for ANZ about a year ago.

Mr Atkins said he will remain in a consulting capacity to Freehills and will continue with his other board memberships - namely the Committee for Perth, Breakaway Resources Ltd, PearlStreet Ltd and Australian Finance Group Ltd.

In the latter case, he said the potential conflict issues had been addressed before the appointment was made.

Mr Atkins has considerable pedigree in the Perth market, having started his legal career at Perth's then biggest law firm Parker & Parker where he became managing partner in 1996, in time to see through a merger with Freehills.

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