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Drummond's on a fast learning curve

If Cameron Clyne wants to show the market that headhunting Craig Drummond is a good idea, he should start thinking now about who will replace Drummond in short order as NAB's chief financial officer.

If Cameron Clyne wants to show the market that headhunting Craig Drummond is a good idea, he should start thinking now about who will replace Drummond in short order as NAB's chief financial officer.

Clyne has been in the CEO's chair for 4 years already, and the succession window is open because NAB's shares have underperformed CBA, Westpac and ANZ as the search for a face-saving exit from the UK continues.

In Drummond he has hired someone who the market thinks has the ability and leadership skills to be chosen as NAB's next CEO - but there's not much time to give the new man the experience inside the group that he needs.

The position of chief financial officer is an important one, particularly because Drummond and the man he will replace later this year, Mark Joiner, also carry the title of head of strategy: the strategy unit reports to the CFO, and the CFO and CEO jointly present NAB's strategic plans to the board.

Drummond is a good choice for the CFO job itself. He is a chartered accountant who has led two significant financial operations in this country, Goldman Sachs JBWere and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and he came to attention at Were by becoming Australia's top-ranked banking analyst - notable among other things for correctly calling NAB a "buy" and ANZ and Westpac a "sell" before ANZ and Westpac disclosed massive commercial property and takeover lending losses in the early '90s.

He understands how the Australian banks work, in other words, and also has a familiarity with NAB's history that draws on his years with Were. Were was NAB's main broking house for decades, for example, and when the then Goldman Sachs JBWere sold 80.1 per cent of its private broking and wealth management business in 2009, NAB was the buyer.

To get into the CEO succession race this time around Drummond probably needs to shift from the CFO job to at least one other senior management job before the CEO decision is taken by NAB's board. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Australia he oversaw banking operations including corporate lending, trade finance and leasing finance, but he did not run a retail banking unit, for example. A move from the CFO role to run NAB's retail bank would be a logical next step.

Given Clyne's already long tenure the change would need to occur relatively quickly, and possibly as soon as the end of next year after he completes one full financial year as chief financial officer. The existing retail boss, Gavin Slater, is another CEO contender and would also rotate on that scenario. But then again, the CFO slot would be free.

Drummond's career was built in broking and investment banking and he is familiar with two global financial giants, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.

His appointment does not signal heavier NAB focus on investment banking, or renewed expansion overseas. NAB's unhappy experience with banking in the United Kingdom and write-downs that it took in its capital markets division during the global crisis have killed its appetite for expansion in those areas, and it is focused on disentangling itself from the UK, and building its domestic Australian banking and wealth businesses.

At JBWere, Drummond moved up the management ranks under Were's then boss, Terry Campbell.

The pair were key architects of Were's joint venture with Goldman Sachs in 2004, and Drummond led the integration of the two businesses before becoming boss of Bank America Merrill Lynch in Australia in 2009.

Goldman bought out the Were equity to move to 100 per cent in 2011.

Craig Drummond's chances of becoming CEO of NAB would not end if he was not selected by the board to replace Clyne. At 52 years of age he could be a contender the next time around, too.

The market's take on Wednesday was that he is in the current succession mix, alongside others including Slater, business banking boss Joseph Healy and enterprise services head Lisa Gray.

His broad knowledge of the financial scene here and his experience in restructuring financial houses certainly suggests he should be. But as I said, the timing is tight: a relatively fast rotation out of the CFO role will be the sign that he is in the hunt.

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