Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Sir Ralph Norris tipped as next Fletcher chair

Former banking chief executive touted as taking the chair when Ralph Waters retires.

Ralph Norris left the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 2011 after a 40-year career in the banking sector here and in Australia. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Ralph Norris left the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 2011 after a 40-year career in the banking sector here and in Australia. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Banking boss Sir Ralph Norris is being tipped by insiders to become the new chairman of New Zealand's biggest listed company after his appointment to Fletcher Building's board was announced yesterday.

Investment experts said Norris would be an extremely popular chairman among the institutional community because he was seen as dependable, experienced, had an outstanding career and could easily step into the top role.

"He would be of that calibre. He's got a good pedigree," said one Auckland-based finance expert, reluctant to be named commenting on internal board matters.

No other director would be as likely to be as popular with the eight-member board or was as well-known here or in Australia, another finance expert said.

A replacement for outgoing chairman Ralph Waters had been sought for some time because the current eight-member board wanted to maintain its numbers.

Waters announced the Norris appointment yesterday, saying the former bank chief would become an independent director from April.

Last October, Waters said this year's AGM would be his last. He is retiring a few months ahead of his due date of March next year, partly because of his prominent cricket role in Australia but also because he will have been with Fletcher for 13 years.

Insiders said Fletcher chief executive Mark Adamson can't become chairman but that before Norris was named a director, ex-Foodstuffs managing director Tony Carter was a strong contender.

But Carter is already chairman of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Air New Zealand and the Blues and a director of ANZ Bank New Zealand. Being chairman of Fletcher and Air NZ is not seen as appropriate.

John Judge was also tipped but doesn't have the same prominence as Norris.

Fellow directors Alan Jackson, Kathryn Spargo, Cecilia Tarrant and Gene Tilbrook are not said to have the prominence in the business community that Norris has enjoyed for decades.

Waters said Norris had retired as Commonwealth Bank of Australia managing director and chief executive in 2011 after a 40-year career in the banking sector here and in Australia. He was ASB Bank chief executive and is a former Air New Zealand chief executive. Norris is also a director of Fonterra Co-operative Group and Origin Energy and either a former director or chairman of the Business Council of Australia, the International Monetary Conference, Sovereign Insurance, the NZ Bankers' Association, Business Roundtable and the Australian Bankers' Association.

He is also a member of the NZ Olympic Advisory Committee and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Advisory Board.

Waters said Norris would bring valuable skills and experience from leading large organisations here and in Australia.

Norris, who holidays on Waiheke Island, will temporarily bring the board to nine members and his appointment is being made ahead of Waters' retirement.

Norris, paid $20 million in 2011, was once dubbed Australia's most hated banker. Four years ago tabloids called him a runaway banker who had raised mortgage interest rates just before Christmas.

Fletcher will announce its interim result from Sydney on February 20. The chairmanship is expected to be announced before the annual result in August.

Fletcher Building closed up 13c yesterday at $9.06, compared to the $9.90 it reached in October.

Sir Ralph Norris

* Ex-Commonwealth Bank of Australia managing director and chief executive.
* Director of Fonterra Co-operative Group and Origin Energy.
* Former chief executive of ASB Bank and Air New Zealand.
* Tipped as new Fletcher Building chairman replacing Ralph Waters.

- NZ Herald

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