/Top 10 directors: The quiet revolution in Australian boardrooms

Top 10 directors: The quiet revolution in Australian boardrooms

But board consultant Steve Pell said the departure marked a changing of the guard at the top of the power list. Bank chairmen such as Mr Maxsted, David Gonski and Catherine Livingstone seem out of favour but healthcare stocks are on the rise.

The list of most powerful directors is based on the market capitalisation of boards. It doesn’t add more weight to chairman roles, with Qantas chairman Richard Goyder, Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns and BHP chairman Ken MacKenzie among those nominated by their peers as most respected.

Westpac directors Margie Seale and Craig Dunn clung on to top 10 positions since the Financial Review last published the list in October.

However, Ms O’Reilly’s fellow CSL directors Abbas Hussain, Bruce Brook and Marie McDonald are also set to ascend into the top 10 list, as CSL shares close in on $300.

CSL director Christine O’Reilly is set to succeed Lindsay Maxsted as the country’s most powerful director based on market cap.  Arsineh Houspian

Ms O’Reilly, also a director at Medibank Private, Stockland and Transurban, is little known outside director circles but has spoken about the need to keep your head down in the post-Hayne world.

“Some of these more experienced directors are saying, ‘Well, I’ve survived and my reputation is intact and I’m proud of my career, this is a nice time to go out and why jeopardise that’, and that is a genuine and valid concern,” the former co-head of unlisted infrastructure at Colonial First State Global Asset Management said at the KPMG Couta Boat Classic last year.

Confirmation on Tuesday that Mr Maxsted would end his nine-year stint at BHP came after last year’s AUSTRAC scandal forced him to announce he would stand down as Westpac chairman this year, once a replacement is found.

The departure means by the end of this year, Mr Maxsted’s role as Transurban chairman will be his one current listed board seat.

Speaking from his Collins Street office, the former KPMG head laughed off any suggestion of an epiphany over the summer break to fast-track his retirement.

“There might be a point when I wind down. At my age, 65 years old, I have been doing this a long time,” he said.

Mining directors on the rise

Mr Maxsted has sat atop the list of most powerful directors based on market capitalisation for the past five years but said his present roles were always likely to end about the same time.

“I was appointed to Westpac and Transurban on the same day, March 2008, so the roles were always going to end around the same time,” he said.

“This was always going to be my last year at BHP and my last term at Transurban. But I am not leaving [BHP] today or tomorrow, I will serve most of this year until the AGM.”

He also played down speculation that the appointment of former Wesfarmers finance director Terry Bowen to the Transurban board signalled an accelerated succession.

“People have read into BHP’s announcement about Terry Bowen joining Transurban as flagging a transition but that announcement was simply to adhere to the UK’s stricter disclosure rules,” Mr Maxsted said.

The success of mining stocks such as BHP has also lifted their directors in the ranks, including Malcolm Broomhead – who remains on the BHP board despite passing nine years – into the top 10 list.

Terry Bowen has been appointed to the Transurban board. Photo: Louie Douvis

But Mr Pell said there had also been an injection of new and younger directors, particularly women.

“We seem to be on the cusp of generational change at the top of the power list as more women rise to the upper rungs, and the bias towards bank directors decreases. It may take some time for the perception of power to catch up with reality,” Mr Pell said.

“Banks are still a huge part of the listed market, but there are less bank directors taking on large portfolios of directorships. Sitting on a bank board has become almost a full-time role in the current regulatory environment and this is increasingly reflected in director portfolios.”