13/03/2018 - 15:53

Vale Warwick Kent, gentleman banker

13/03/2018 - 15:53

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Former banker and company director Warwick Kent, who led the revival of Bankwest after big losses in the early 1990s and through its subsequent privatisation, passed away this week at his home in NSW.

Warwick Kent is being remembered as a gentleman.

Former banker and company director Warwick Kent, who led the revival of Bankwest after big losses in the early 1990s and through its subsequent privatisation, passed away this week at his home in NSW.

Mr Kent was managing director of Bankwest from 1989 up to his retirement in 1997.

He was subsequently chairman of West Australian Newspapers Holdings (1998 to 2007) and Coventry Group (2001 to 2007), and a director of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (2000 to 2008) and Perpetual Trustees.

Company director Tony Howarth, who ran Challenge Bank in the 1990s, described Mr Kent as a real gentleman but a fierce competitor.

“He did an excellent job for both Bankwest and the state in restructuring the bank and positioning it for growth,” Mr Howarth told Business News.

“He played a real leadership role, both as managing director of the bank but also in the West Australian community.”

Corporate adviser John McGlue, who was business editor of The West Australian in the 1990s, had similar memories, saying Mr Kent was a gentleman but a ferociously tough banker.

“There’s no doubt in my mind Warwick Kent was instrumental in saving Bankwest from collapse in the early 1990s,” Mr McGlue said.

“If he hadn’t ventured west to join then chairman Ross Garnaut, the R&I Bank as it was then known would have been doomed.

“Warwick inherited a poison chalice but pulled the R&I back from the brink, when collapse was imminent and a rescue by the Commonwealth Bank was all but agreed to.

“That particular event had to wait until long after he had retired.”

Mr McGlue said that, as the chief executive of a bank never out of the headlines, Mr Kent had a tempestuous relationship with the media.

“As business editor of The West, I experienced much of that,” he said.

“But throughout, he was professional and direct – including, at one time, having a public Australian Press Council debate at Notre Dame University on the role of financial media. He didn’t hold back.

“As likeable as a 1990s banker could be.”

On a lighter note, Mr McGlue recalled Mr Kent’s impeccable grooming standards.

“He had the shiniest black shoes anyone in Perth has ever seen,” Mr McGlue said.

The accolades for Mr Kent have included the industry and commerce medal in the WA Citizen of the Year awards in 1995, the AICD's WA gold medal award in 1998, and being appointed an officer in the order of Australia (AO) in 1998.

His volunteer positions included being WA president of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), WA president of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), and trustee of the Walter and Eliza Hall Trust.

The AICD's WA division president Frank Cooper acknowledged the passing of Mr Kent as a respected member and past gold medal winner.

"We pay tribute to his contribution to excellence in governance in Western Australia," Mr Cooper said.

When Mr Kent was recruited to lead the R&I Bank in 1989, he had already had a long career with Westpac Banking Corporation.

The R&I subsequently reported two big losses, a result of the 1990 commercial property crash.

Mr Kent then set about rebuilding the bank, including its change of name in 1994 to Bankwest.

Around the same time, Mr Kent had to manage ongoing speculation around the potential privatisation of the government-owned bank.

One potential buyer was local competitor Challenge Bank, led at the time by chairman Neil Hamilton and managing director Mr Howarth.

Their overtures were rejected by the state government, which opted to sell Bankwest to Bank of Scotland in 1995, on the proviso 49 per cent of the shares were offered to the public.

This resulted in Bankwest shares being listed on the ASX in 1996.

Bank of Scotland evolved into HBOS, which subsequently sold Bankwest to Commonwealth Bank in 2008.

Mr Kent, who was aged 82, recently celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary.

He is survived by his wife, Jan, their daughters Megan and Bridget (Beatson), and five grandchildren.

Ms Beatson said her father wanted to be remembered as a family man.

“In the days before he passed away, I asked him what advice he would pass on to his grandchildren,” she said.

“Without hesitation he replied, 'honesty and integrity', and I think those qualities sum up his character.”

Mr Kent’s funeral will be held on Friday at St Jude’s Anglican church in Bowral, NSW.

Note: The journalist worked for Mr Kent in the 1990s.

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