Corporatising Paul Keating's bad habits

Former corporate chieftains are picking up bad habits from retired politicians in criticising from the sidelines… but does it help?

It’s just what you don’t need as a CEO: The company is struggling, investors are running for the exit and then when the clouds are at their darkest your fondly-remembered predecessor bursts forth with highly selective advice.

Australia’s coterie of former corporate superstars sound more like disgruntled ex-politicians by the day, issuing forth with bitter critiques of ‘the new guard’ from the comfortable perspective of the past.

Former PM Paul Keating is the doyen of this discipline… ever willing to hold forth on the failings of those who now walk in his shoes. Keating’s ‘blast’ this week on the Gillard regime’s subservience to the US was a typical tirade.

Of course we expect this sort of thing from former politicians, but until recently we did not anticipate it from senior executives.

Chris Corrigan, that most divisive of corporate chieftains who ‘broke the waterfront unions’ with his Patrick group more than a decade ago is now publicly bemoaning the lack of "talent" and "vigour" among today's port managers.

Former Commonwealth Bank chief David Murray enjoyed an era where banks prospered under the most benign conditions and returns on equity for Commonwealth could top 20 per cent. No wonder Murray can appear on television and tell his successors that our big banks need to be making a 16 per cent plus return on equity, knowing full well that most are not. Moreover, with low credit growth, high capital adequacy provisions and expensive overseas funding our banks will not be reaching those ROE targets for a long time.

Laurence Freedman, one of the syndicate including Izzy Asper and adman John Singleton, who rescued and then made a fortune from the first crisis that engulfed the Ten Network (its 1992 receivership) has opined on the channel's beleaguered James Warburton-led management team: "They have lost the plot" said Freedman, who then honestly added what others rarely concede…”I don’t know what the solution is”.

And there’s the rub… there’s little useful comparison between running Australia now and in the Keating era. The comparisons between a pre-GFC, pre-internet Australian business model in banking or media are less useful again.

As a trendsetter in the entertaining but invariably pointless business of savaging your successors Paul Keating has a lot to answer for.

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