Connections Breakfast with Cameron Clyne

13 September 2012

Cameron Clyne graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1989, and in 2008 became the CEO of NAB
"Cameron Clyne graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1989, and in 2008 became the CEO of NAB."

"Reputation is not just important. It is central to success in business." That was the key message from Cameron Clyne, the head of National Australia Bank in a speech to alumni at the Sydney Connections breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel on September 6.

Clyne, who graduated with an arts degree from Sydney in 1989, took over as the CEO of NAB in 2008, leading a workforce of 44,000 staff and an institution at the time ranked fourth in customer satisfaction (out of the big four banks) and saddled with overseas investments that had turned problematic.

Four years later, he told a packed room of alumni, NAB was ranked number one in that metric and had divested itself of those international problems.

In an address titled Leadership in Challenging Times, Clyne said reputation is "based on leadership strategy and building a culture around that," and that strategy is based on three factors- making leadership visible, making it authentic and making it stand for something.

Elaborating on the three factors underpinning success, Clyne said visible leadership meant making sure that staff knew who you were, had access to you and could see them in the office. That visibility extended to the physical office. "We have a philosophy of no offices or assigned desks," he said. "We want everyone to be accessible, from the bottom right up to the top."

Having an authentic leadership style - being transparent and direct - was also crucial, he added, as it allows you time to engage in difficult issues, so that when you have to deliver bad news, the staff will accept it because of the trust you have built up with them.

Thirdly, leadership needs to stand for something, Clyne said. "You need a rallying cry to base your reputation on. In our case, I wanted our staff to be prouder to work for NAB than for anyone else."

Some media commentators have questioned whether enhancing reputation actually helped the bottom line but Clyne was emphatic about their commercial benefits. "They led to a more engaged workforce and also forced the bank to make its activities consistent with having an outstanding reputation.

"On a practical level, that meant getting rid of bank fees that annoyed customers, or business overseas that dragged our reputation down."

Clyne's talk was the fourth of this year's Sydney Connections Breakfast series, which enable alumni and friends to kick start their workday by catching up with old university friends and colleagues.

On 8 November, at the fifth and last breakfast for the year, digital entrepreneur Matt Barrie will speak on "The Next Big Thing".

Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208, 0434 561 056

Email: 530e4d0a4d2c15172635222a011e1f350b46510238490e05