Who is Phil Chronican?

by Madison Utley08 Mar 2019

In 2016, a banking veteran, newly retired from the time- and effort-intensive world of executive leadership, told his Twitter followers, “There is life after a full-time career. Welcome to the other side.”

This week, he was named as the new chairman at National Australian Bank (NAB).

While Philip Chronican may not have envisioned such a prominent position at a big four bank this late in his career, NAB’s board of directors unanimously backed him as the person to bring stability to an institution still reeling from the royal commission and the recent resignations of former chairman Ken Henry and CEO Andrew Thorburn.

The Dunedin-born banker entered the world of finance at the New Zealand Treasury before spending the next 27 years of his career at Westpac, holding executive positions such as CFO and head of institutional banking. It was during this time that he completed his MBA and moved to Australia.

In 2009, Chronican left Westpac to act as head of Australia at ANZ. Despite having successfully navigated the bank through the global financial crisis and being considered a leading candidate to succeed Mike Smith as CEO, Chronican decided to step down from his position in 2015 to pursue non-executive roles.

The following year Chronican became a non-executive director at NAB, holding positions on a number of committees.

It was on 1 March 2019, after the unexpected resignations, that Chronican found himself in the CEO role in an interim capacity while the bank searched for a permanent candidate.

Over the course of Chronican’s 35 years in banking, he has been outspoken about the need for transparent and ethical practices, as well as the many benefits of making the industry a more diverse and welcoming place.

In a video interview with the Financial Services Institute of Australasia (FINSIA), Chronican spoke about becoming aware of his personal responsibility towards cultivating an inclusive environment.   

“As I was maturing in leadership and management roles, there was this realisation that I can help shape the norms and behaviours in the workplace. There’s an expression that ‘You get what you put up with.’ If you don’t want something then you don’t put up with it,” he said.

His commitment to integrity was again evidenced when Chronican was among the first to voluntarily take the Banking and Finance Oath (BFO), a pledge created by an independent organisation intended to raise the ethical standards in the industry.

By taking the BFO, Chronican acknowledged that “trust is the foundation of [his] profession,” and promised to “compete with honour”, “speak out against wrongdoing”, and “accept responsibility for [his] actions.”

According to NAB director David Armstrong, Chronican made it clear to the board that he was not open to remaining in the CEO role on a permanent basis and was therefore appointed as chairman.

In a June 2018 interview with Investment Magazine, Chronican said that it’s the ability to facilitate “keeping the climate open but having everyone perform and prepare” that makes for a good and effective chair.

NAB is certainly in a place to benefit from Chronican’s extensive experience, frank acknowledgment of all that has gone wrong, and commitment to facilitating the change necessary for the bank to make it out of this tumultuous chapter intact.