Westpac's Gail Kelly to retire

The school teacher who became Australia's first female bank chief is retiring. But not without leaving her mark.

Gail Kelly is among the world’s most powerful women, and one of Australia’s best paid CEO’s, but the well-regarded chief of Westpac has announced her retirement.

South African born, Kelly was originally a high school teacher before going to work as a teller at a local bank, Nedcor, in 1980. She quickly climbed the corporate ladder and moved to Australia in 1997 before, ironically, turning down a job offer from Westpac (ASX: WBC) to join Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA). Four years later she moved to St George and had the top job between 2002 and 2007.

But it’s as chief executive of Westpac that Kelly will be remembered. She was offered the chief executive role in 2007 just as the global financial crisis was getting underway.

Shortly after joining Westpac, she orchestrated the $18.6bn acquisition of St George, which strengthened Westpac’s position as one of Australia’s top lenders. The bank came out of the GFC unscathed and Kelly helped total deposits grow 40% to $461bn since the St George acquisition. This year Westpac achieved a record profit of $7.6bn, up 8% on the prior period. Kelly took home a $13m pay packet this year, making her the highest paid chief of the big four.

In February 2015 Kelly will step down to be replaced by an internal appointment, Brian Hartzer, who has run Australian Financial Services (AFS) since 2012. AFS comprises St.George Banking Group, Westpac Retail & Business Banking, and BT Financial Group. A native of the USA and Princeton University graduate, he previously worked at Royal Bank of Scotland and in several senior roles during a ten-year stint at ANZ (ASX: ANZ). Hartzer is also a Chartered Financial Analyst.

Gail Kelly was the first female chief executive of one of Australia’s big four banks and has done her part to encourage women in business. In 2010 she announced a target that women should occupy at least 40% of the top 4,000 managerial roles at Westpac.

In an interview with the Financial Review on how she broke the banking world’s glass ceiling, she had this advice: “Be courageous, and be prepared to take the opportunities and the challenges that come your way. In my experience, women like to be really 100% ready before they put their hand up for opportunities. My advice and my encouragement to you, over life journeys and career journeys is put your hand up, be bold and be courageous. Be prepared to back yourself, be prepared to have a go.”

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