Leading role in more than prime position

THE chief executives of Western Australia’s major industrial companies are automatically placed in a position of influence, both for the decisions they make about their own company and for the leadership role they can exercise on wider business issues.

Wesfarmers chief executive Michael Chaney oversees a group with extensive interests, among them hardware retailing, coal mining, chemical supply and insurance.

The company’s most significant move last year was not a growth initiative but rather its sale of the Landmark business to AWB, which reshaped the competitive landscape in rural services.

Mr Chaney is due to retire in July 2005, bringing to a close 13 years of outstanding success as managing director.

However he is sure to remain an influential figure in the WA business community.

He is already a non-executive director of BHP Billiton, which has extensive WA operations, including in iron ore and nickel production.

In addition, Mr Chaney is likely to secure some other prominent board positions, and more generally is a highly respected business figure whose opinions will carry a lot of weight.

Alinta chief executive Bob Browning is becoming increasingly influential, via the rapid expansion of Alinta’s business.

Its latest big move was the $1.69 billion acquisition of the Australian gas and infrastructure assets of Duke Energy.

It is also moving into electricity generation in joint venture with Alcoa, adding to its ability to compete with Western Power.

Alinta manages, operates or owns $5.7 billion of energy infrastructure assets across Australia and New Zealand, and is among the 100 largest companies on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Mr Browning renewed his employment contract earlier this year and plans to continue running Alinta until at least May 2007.

Burswood chief executive John Schaap faces an interesting future, with Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting launching a $686 million takeover offer last month.

PBL has stated that it intends to retain the services of Burswood’s senior management, although takeovers are often followed by changes at the top.

Irrespective, Mr Schaap’s biggest legacy may be the work he has done behind the scenes to ensure Burswood retains its monopoly on gaming machines.

This has helped to underpin Burswood’s financial performance over the past few years, when it has been hit by a succession of adverse events, and has gained bipartisan political support.

Multiplex chairman John Roberts is an addition to the list following the float of his property group on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Mr Roberts’ elder son, Andrew Roberts, is the Sydney-based chief executive of Multiplex, while his younger son, Tim Roberts, is a director of the company and managing director of the development division.

Nevertheless, John Roberts had made it clear he will continue to be actively involved in the group, which is one of the major construction groups in Australia and is growing rapidly internationally.

Another new addition to the list is Clough chief executive David Singleton.

He was previously the group head of strategy and M&A of BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace), based in London.

Mr Singleton faces the challenging task of putting the engineering company back on the path of sustained profitable growth.

Mr Singleton is highly regarded by investment analysts, who believe he is making the right structural changes but are keen to see to the company start winning new contracts.

Other influential chief executives based in Perth include Trevor Coates, who heads trans-Tasman supermarket group Foodland, Ian Law, the managing director of WA Newspapers, and John Rothwell, who is the executive chairman of Austal and is still the pin-up boy for politicians who want to showcase WA’s potential in high-tech value added manufacturing.

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