Westpac names new leader

by Madison Utley23 Jan 2020

Westpac has announced the appointment of its new non-executive director and chairman-elect, who will play an integral role in the appointment of a permanent CEO following the resignation of Brian Hartzer.

John McFarlane, scheduled to assume the role in February subject to regulatory approvals, will succeed Lindsay Maxsted and work closely with Peter King, current acting CEO.

McFarlane has more than 44 years’ experience in financial services, across retail and wholesale banking and markets, as well as in life and general insurance.

“This experience, coupled with his strong customer and employee focus, will be invaluable to Westpac as the organisation executes its strategy and implements its Response Plan for the AUSTRAC Statement of Claim,” said Maxsted.

“As chairman-elect, McFarlane will be responsible for appointing a permanent CEO, with an internal and external search process currently underway. In the interim, he will work closely with the acting CEO, Peter King and the board, to effect needed change.”

Most recently, McFarlane was chairman at Barclays in London over “the decade of challenge” following the global financial crisis.

“During his four years as chairman, the company was streamlined, repositioned and has sustainably returned to profit,” Maxsted said.

“Prior to this, he delivered a successful turnaround program at UK insure,r Aviva, a company similar in scale to Westpac.”

McFarlane also possesses a “deep understanding” of Australia’s banking sector, given his previous 10-year tenure as CEO of ANZ from 1997 to 2007, as well as 10 years passed as director of the Australian Bankers’ Association.

The newly named chairman has returned to live in Australia permanently and has dubbed the appointment “an honour”.

“People close to me know that on my return to Australia, I hadn’t intended to take another major leadership role. However, I’m passionate about the Australian banking sector, and I’m excited by the challenge of returning Westpac to its place as a leading global bank, following recent events,” McFarlane said.

“To some extent, the internal and external challenges ahead for Westpac are not dissimilar to those in my last five financial institutions, and I have therefore grown comfortable about my capacity to work with the board and management to effect the necessary change.

“Nevertheless, I’m sufficiently battle-hardened to realise things can be tougher than you think and that in banking, nothing is ever certain.”

McFarlane has communicated that the appointment of a “world-class” CEO can take time. 

“In the interim, momentum is important. I will work closely with Peter King and the board to continue to make any changes necessary. People should expect to see positive change during this period,” he said.

“My focus initially will naturally be on resolving the company’s current issues but equally important, to position it as quickly as possible for long-term success. Fortunately, Westpac has wonderful core customer franchises, each with significant opportunity.”