Westpac has named “battle-hardened” banking veteran John McFarlane as its next chairman to help it recover from the fallout of a massive money-laundering and child exploitation scandal.
Mr McFarlane will succeed Lindsay Maxsted on April 2, and one of his first duties will be finding a permanent chief executive to replace Brian Hartzer as well as turning around the bank’s culture.
Dubbed “Mack the Knife” by the British press for swiftly dispatching chief executives, Mr McFarlane is known as a change agent, a role he embraced in an interview with Westpac Wire.
“Look, I’m not concerned about a challenge — every single major financial institution I’ve been with has been in some form of turnaround and a major reshaping,” he said..
“Westpac isn’t in that position from a core business standpoint but it is from a compliance standpoint, and therefore you know it will require a significant amount of change.
“We have to fix what’s gone wrong, we have to make good, and now we have to make sure it just doesn’t happen again.”
In a statement he described himself as “sufficiently battle-hardened to realise things can be tougher than you think, and that in banking, nothing is ever certain.”
Mr McFarlane was chief executive of ANZ Group from 1997 to 2007 and more recently has been chairman of Barlays Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, British transport operator FirstGroup and UK insurance company Aviva, where he fired the chief executive within weeks of arriving.
“Mr McFarlane is not only well known in Australia and in New Zealand, but is a respected banking leader globally who brings to our organisation more than 44 years’ experience in financial services,” Mr Maxsted said.
“Over the past 27 years he has been a main board director of five of the world’s leading financial institutions, including as executive and non-executive chairman, chief executive and executive and non-executive director roles.
“He has a proven track record in delivering results, along with cultural and organisational change.”
The 72-year-old Scotsman said he hadn’t intended to take on another major leadership role after retiring from Barclays last year, moving back to Melbourne in October expecting to spend his time visiting his grandchildren in London and Los Angeles.
But having spent some time “in the garden, so to speak”, Mr McFarlane found he didn’t have enough to do and was therefore receptive when Mr Maxsted approached him.
It was the “perfect marriage,” Mr McFarlane said — Westpac needed a seasoned chairman with banking experience and “I needed a challenge”.
Mr McFarlane will also serve as Westpac’s non-executive director, a role he will start in February.
Mr Hartzer was forced out and Mr Maxsted brought forward his retirement when the scandal came to light in November.
Westpac shares were down 11¢ to $25.03 at 9.15am.