Barbara Chapman says former prime minister Helen Clark Clark is impressive for
Barbara Chapman says former prime minister Helen Clark Clark is impressive for "her intellect, her thoughtfulness and her beliefs". Picture / File photo

Barbara Chapman has presided over six years of record earnings at ASB Bank and in August cracked the $1 billion profit mark for the first time.

But the ASB chief executive –– today named New Zealand Herald business leader of the year -- says 2017 "has simply been the warm up act for the next decade".

Chapman won't be leading the bank through any of that time though and is stepping down in February after nearly 7 years in the role.

One of corporate New Zealand's most powerful women, Chapman's time at ASB has seen it named New Zealand Bank of the Year five times in a row by Financial Times-owned magazine The Banker.

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ASB also scored third this year on market research firm AMR's corporate reputation index, the highest place ever enjoyed by a bank in those rankings.

While that sort of acclaim is "hugely satisfying", Chapman said she is most proud of the "incredibly strong culture" inside ASB.

"Watching ASB people from all corners of the business show up for greatness every day has been the true highlight, and they will continue to do this long after I have left the building," she said.

Chapman is handing over the reins to Vittoria Shortt, a Kiwi who comes from ASB's parent company Commonwealth Bank of Australia, where she was most recently group executive, marketing and strategy.

It is a similar path to that followed by Chapman who spent a five-year secondment with Commonwealth Bank in Sydney before stepping into the top ASB job in 2011.

Prior to that, New Plymouth-born Chapman worked for 12 years as a senior executive at ASB specialising in marketing, human resources and retail banking roles, and then as managing director at the ASB-owned Sovereign.

Chapman says it's never been her desire to "hog the spotlight".

"Rather, my aim has been to focus that spotlight on others and to support and encourage them through the disappointments, frustrations and flashes of brilliance and greatness which all come as a standard part of everyday life in a large corporate," she said.

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Chapman says former ASB CEOs Sir Ralph Norris and the late Hugh Burrett both taught her early on that bosses "simply can't lead the business from the ivory tower".

"So a big part of my leadership style has been to get out and about and form real connections with people who you know won't filter the feedback because you're the boss. What you hear isn't always pretty, but it's always insightful and honest and focuses you on what's most important to our team and our customers," she said.

Barbara Chapman is stepping down in February after nearly seven years in the role. Picture / Michael Craig.
Barbara Chapman is stepping down in February after nearly seven years in the role. Picture / Michael Craig.

Chapman names Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark when asked about the leaders she admires.

Clark, for Chapman, "has held a singular focus on making a positive difference firstly for all New Zealanders and more recently for vulnerable people around the world" and is impressive for "her intellect, her thoughtfulness and her beliefs".

And Chapman recalls a morning she spent with Nadella as "truly inspirational".

"He shared with me his view that one of your best and most enduring legacies as a leader is to build an empathy in your business for diversity and inclusion, and that it's this shared empathy which will create the most sustainable and positive forward momentum for your culture, and through that your results," Chapman said.

During Chapman's tenure, ASB has well been recognised for its diversity efforts.

It was the first New Zealand bank to be awarded a rainbow tick in 2014 and this year committed to formal benchmarks around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) inclusion in the workplace.

"On any measure ASB has a world class culture, but our failing had possibly been to focus too much on just the diversity metrics and not enough on challenging ourselves as individuals to build and celebrate a more personal empathy for the differences in the team members around us. I now agree that it's this empathy that will make the most difference in the long term," she said.