Gail Kelly’s exit only enhances her stature

Kelly goes out on a high, with the bank riding the housing boom with perfection and expanding its business operations in Asia. It will make Hartzer's job a lot easier.

Gail Kelly’s remarkably successful tenure as Westpac bank chief has only been enhanced by the well-orchestrated succession to Brian Hartzer.

Hartzer was the anointed one from the day he returned from the UK in 2012 and the timing of his accession could not have been better.

The only thing troubling the market was the precise timing of the move just two weeks after the Westpac results when Kelly gave no hint of leaving and coming before the annual meeting.

CLSA analyst Brian Johnson told The Australian: “Gail Kelly has done an awesome job and outperformed the market on every metric. The sign of a good leader is the quality of the people around him or her and this will be Brian Hartzer’s big test.”

The most obvious casualty is institutional boss Rob Whitfield, but it would surprise if he left the bank immediately.

Whether he does so in a few months is a different issue and will depend on the culture Hartzer maintains at the bank.

Kelly has run the bank since 2008 and guided Westpac through the GFC aftermath and into the upper echelon of global banking.

The bank has ridden the housing boom with perfection and expanded into Asia where it holds a meaningful position, serving largely Australian clients with business in Asia.

She had also been the poster-person for women in leadership in Australia and will be highly sought after in her non-executive days ahead..

Harzter is highly regarded in the market and as head of the retail bank has managed to avoid any major snafus, which is the major trap for most bank bosses.

He is highly personable and after being the one-time heir apparent at ANZ finally gets his chance to run a big Australian bank.

The timing is superb because the market was starting to ask questions about when Kelly would leave and what Hartzer has done to justify his lead position.

Handing over the reins now solves those potential issues and puts Hartzer in the lead position as the Australian banks argue for fair treatment on the new capital rules.

Kelly goes out on an absolute high in the job which, of course, makes Hartzer’s job easier as he puts his own stamp on the bank.

This article was originally published in the Australian Business Review.

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