Wesfarmers talking the talk on expansion

The diversified conglomerate is assessing options abroad, with a focus on China and India.

If Wesfarmers doesn’t finally step outside Australia and New Zealand it won’t be for lack of thinking about it, if this week’s biennial conference in Melbourne is any guide.

Every two years the top 400 or so brass at the company gather to swap war stories and have their minds opened.

Over the next couple of days at Crown Towers the external focus will be very much on China and India and the digital future.

Today some company veterans will tell some tales in the centenary year with former chief executives Trevor Eastwood and Michael Chaney addressing the troops.

The innovation and global push will come from local creativity guru Amantha Imber, who calls herself an inventiologist and earned her PhD in organisation psychology.

Publisher and commentator Arianna Huffington will address the troops on Thursday.

Business guru Anil Gupta will spread the word on China and India, as will Haiyan Wang who manages the China India Institute.

Innovation, digital disruption and Asia are frequent topics at this regular gathering which highlights where chief executive Richard Goyder is thinking, even if he is yet to invest offshore.

Wesfarmers business development team has some people stationed in Hong Kong and of course the retail arm has buyers in the region.

But Goyder has baulked at a big Asian acquisition, in part because of valuation concerns and worries over what value his team can add.

He is also keen to instil a sense of digital disruption fear into the management ranks.

The company’s board includes some locally based Asian gurus, such as Vanessa Wallace who runs Booz & Co’s Japanese office.

After considering the company’s annual report yesterday the board hosted former Coles boss Ian McLeod to a dinner at Bistro Guillame.

McLeod has a touring business-development role from the company after a successful five years at Coles during which he pocketed some $55 million in cash for his troubles.

His replacement, John Durkan, has wasted no time putting his stamp on business, slashing costs by cutting head office staff as part of a strategy to put more power into local store management.

Yesterday’s board meeting took longer than normal, which meant there was no time for the normal golf game.

The Wesfarmers board toured China earlier this year.

This article was first published on The Australian.