It takes a born leader to ascend through the ranks of big banking in just over a decade.
It’s no easy task fronting up to a job interview when you’re the mother of baby triplets and a toddler. But that’s exactly what Gail Kelly did when applying for a high-flying position as a senior human resources executive at South Africa’s Nedcor Bank back in 1990.
“I left one triplet at home with my mum, I interviewed with one on my lap and I gave the other to the PA, who was sitting outside,” says Kelly, 52, surveying the view of Cockatoo Island through the floor-to-ceiling windows of her Westpac office in Sydney. And her eldest daughter, Sharon, then three? Oh, she had to go to pre-school, laughs Kelly.
So much did Kelly impress her potential boss, he held the full-time position open for seven months – until her triplets were a year old. Kelly didn’t let him down: within three years she had risen to a more senior position as head of the bank’s credit cards department. Her trademarks? An attention to customer service and a talent for delivering profits.
She moved to Australia with her family in 1997 and it’s here she has really made her mark. After taking up a position as strategic marketing manager for the Commonwealth Bank, she was soon promoted to head of the customer service division. Then the big move to St George in 2002, where she became the first woman CEO of an Australian bank.
Kelly’s record was such that within three years she was in the running for the top job at the Commonwealth Bank. And then came her second big leap: late last year it was announced she would be the new CEO of Westpac, followed in May this year by the headlines telling of her bold $19 billion friendly takeover bid for her old bank, St George, which will potentially create a banking giant rivalling the Commonwealth.
We won’t talk too much about her dress statements – a fondness for primary colours in a world of charcoal suits – or her compelling style in...