Holding them to account: Outgoing Newcastle Permanent chair Michael Slater.
The Newcastle Permanent’s annual general meeting will be your last as chair after nearly 10 years in the role. Why step down?
I have had a rewarding time as Chairman with many memories but it is the right time to let someone else step into the role of chair to facilitate board renewal and a refreshed perspective.The board renewal process has seen four directors out of the seven appointed over the last four years.This will provide an opportunity for newer directors to step up.
What are key achievements as chair?
I’m proud of the role of the board and chair in governing this organization through difficult periods over the last 10 years such that it continues to provide a superior, and I think fairer, proposition to the major banks:we have more satisfied customers, better value banking services, happier staff and a wide range of community support focused on young people and their families across regional NSW.
Success against the major banks has been the greatest achievement with more specifically the development of governance improvements and a more diverse board composition, including a better representative proportion of women directors.
Perhaps one of the more difficult achievements, which might sound like the easiest, is maintaining organisational formation around the strategic plan. So many organisations waste time and resources flip-flopping from one strategic initiative to another or chasing immaterial objectives that are not mission critical.Newcastle Permanent has pursued its strategic goals and executed them brilliantly over many years which enable us to take the fight to the major banks.
You have been chair of RDA Hunterfor a year. What progression have you seen?
Transition to new smart industries within the restructuring of the economy (ie innovation and infrastructure investment). Infrastructure development (defence, education, smart systems development and STEM training in schools). Working with regional stakeholders to achieve targeted projects in the regional strategic plan.
You are director of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, which holds a place in the hearts of many Novocastrians. Why is that role important to you?
I’m extremely lucky that my professional skills and experience have given me the opportunity to work with some truly inspirational not-for-profit organisations.
For the WRHS here in the Hunter, it has been wonderful to be involved and support the organisation over the past 20 years. WRHS is a true community benefit not-for-profit – there is no charge for the service provided. From 1 January 2017 it is one of only two contracted rotary winged aeromedical retrieval services.It covers from Sydney to the QLD border.
Equally important, I’ve been very fortunate over the last 10 years as Chair of the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation to meet and interact with volunteers from many charitable organisations that give unstintingly of their time and resources to the benefit of sections of the community that do not have the advantages the rest of us have.
After completing a bachelor of commerce at University of Newcastle, what were your plans?
My initial degree was with a major in Economics. I subsequently realised a need to study accounting at a degree level for my role as an accountant. Subsequently I attained an MBA.
What was your first post graduate job?
As a finance analyst, then chief accountant.
What do you hope you’ve instilled in staff?
Hire the right people, get the governance structure right, develop an effective strategic plan and focus on delivering it – without getting distracted on lesser issues.I also encourage people to keep ‘looking up’ – our main competitors are the major banks.
Is the region at a turning point insofar as recent State Government funding grants and the ongoing revitalization of the city?
The Hunter has experienced highs and lows over the last three to four decades, challenges that it has addressed by its resilience and the quality of its business leadership. We will always need to compete with the greater Sydney-centric perspective to continue to obtain grants on an ongoing basis. What is important is that if we do this on a project by project basis with a clear business case and integrated “regional” based focus.
You were named Business Leader of the Year at the 2016 Hunter Business Awards. What qualities do you admire in a leader?
Business leaders need to have a commitment to continue to “strive”, not give in or settle for “average”, or fail to take on a challenge.
I believe all business leaders, whether they operate a small enterprise or govern a large organisation, have an obligation to represent the interests of the community and give back to it in any capacity they can.
Something very few people know about you?
I have received recognition for 50 years’ service with Surf Life Saving Australia.