A big-picture challenge for the B20

The four chief executives heading the B20 taskforces must think beyond their traditional corporate fields if they are to succeed in tackling Australia’s growth challenge.

Wesfarmers’ Richard Goyder has done a remarkable job in assembling four top Australian chief executives to plot a path to greater Australian and global business growth as part of the B20.

What’s important is that they move outside their immediate concerns into a wider picture.

ANZ Bank’s chief executive Mike Smith has the task of developing financing growth strategies. Clearly banking will be part of that discussion but so too must be adapting to the world in the post-quantitative easing environment.

Just as important is the need to extend loan and equity capital to smaller enterprises because it is these enterprises that are going to generate most of the job growth in the years ahead.

Steve Sargent is GE’s chief executive in Australia and has the task of looking at global skills and worker education as part of the B20 human capital taskforce. Sargent will need to look hard at teaching skills both in schools and post-school.

But he should also look at the opportunities to be created by increased use of independent contracting. This provides a much greater degree of flexibility in parts of the workforce.

David Thodey, CEO of Telstra, has the task of improving investment and infrastructure. We are unique in the world in that the biggest part of our superannuation capital is housed in self-managed funds. Many of these funds want to invest in properly structured infrastructure securities. Part of Thodey’s task will be to devise how to engage self-managed funds in infrastructure investment. Compulsory acquisition of money for infrastructure is not the answer.

BHP chief executive Andrew McKenzie drew the short straw. He has to make recommendations for global economic growth. Both BHP and Rio Tinto are curtailing their high-risk capital outlays and confining capital investment to areas where additional capacity is obtained at an economic cost. The big and costly capacity increases have been put on the backburner.

Growth will need to be generated in different ways.