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August 20 - 26, 2010
The Independent Weekly people & places
Rob Chapman, the boy from
Mount Barker who loves
family, football and finance
has emerged this week as one of
the State s big corporate success
Having struggled in 1982 to get a
job, Mr Chapman is being talked up
as the likely successor to Westpac
CEO Gail Kelly after his appoint-
ment as head of St George Bank,
based in Sydney.
Currently CEO of Bank SA and
chairman of Adelaide Football
Club the Rob Chapman story is a
mini-history of the major changes
to the structure of Australia s
financial services sector and an
example of how South Australians
can make their mark on an industry
traditionally based on the eastern
The story also serves as an
example of perseverance for job
Chapman, 46, was born in
Mount Barker and went to the local
primary school before boarding at
Sacred Heart College in Somerton
"I had no idea what I wanted to do
when I left," he said this week.
"I went to uni and studied a
Bachelor of Business and when
I graduated the country was
experiencing a period of high
"I remember handwriting dozens
and dozens of applications for
jobs and getting nowhere before I
eventually scored an interview with
what was then City Mutual.
"The interviewer asked me if I
knew what superannuation was
and I gave him a summary of health
"When he d stopped laughing he
gave me a clerical job and that was
how I started."
Rob worked the next 15 years in
superannuation, insurance and
funds management but the deregu-
lation of Australia s financial
services saw City Mutual merge
with Capita, then MLC and then
Prudential and Colonial.
Along the way he d made it to
the position of state manager and
had married wife Lisa and started
In 1999 Colonial was bought
out by the Commonwealth Bank
and Rob Chapman would begin a
professional friendship that sees
him heading towards the top of
one of Australia s big four banks,
among the most successful banks in
Gail Kelly, currently the CEO
of Westpac, was head of the
sales and service division of the
Commonwealth Bank and after
dealing with Rob in the newly
acquired Colonial operation, she
offered him a key role based at the
Commonwealth in Melbourne.
He was the youngest senior execu-
tive at the financial institution.
He later returned to Adelaide
from where he ran the Bank s WA,
SA and NT divisions.
Three years later Ms Kelly was
hired as head of St George Bank,
which also owned BankSA.
One of the first moves she made
in 2002 was to head-hunt Rob
Chapman to run BankSA.
"Gail is a very inspirational
woman," Rob recalled this week.
"She is great to work with and you
always feel energised by her.
"I ve learnt a lot from how she
operates and it s been a real bonus
to have been able to work with her
Gail Kelly had quickly stepped
up the ladder to become head of
Westpac (which later bought St
George) and when her successor
moved on two years ago it was
widely rumoured that Rob
Chapman would get the gig at St
"There were a lot of things
happening at BankSA at the time
and several issues that would be
best resolved by me continuing so I
didn t have it on my radar," he said.
Paul Fegan took on the job at St
George, but his retirement this year
coincided with what Rob Chapman
calls an "intersection point".
"My two sons and daughter are
at University or working and our
13-year-old son is set to start high
school next year.
"It s an exciting prospect, it s
challenging and we are all pleased.
How we handle the family logistics
is a work in progress."
There is another issue that
occupies Rob s attention and that is
his responsibility as chairman of
the Adelaide Football Club.
"The agenda has been the busiest
in the club s history," he said.
"We started the season slowly, we
have lost players, the Gold Coast
is coming on stream and there are
the daily changes to the proposed
development of Adelaide Oval as a
"Fortunately, the club s CEO
Steven Trigg is an exceptional
manager and we have been able to
deal with all those issues, although
it seems we are on the phone several
times a day.
"As far as the Oval is concerned,
it s not just a football issue. It s
about creating a vibrant develop-
ment opportunity in Adelaide
that is a place to go, a place be
entertained -- something we don t
really have here.
"That said, we remain to be
convinced. If it is not in the best
interests of our members, then we
won t go."
Back on the eastern seaboard and
the financial sector s rumour mill is
Melbourne media reported that
the appointment of Rob Chapman
"shows one of Gail Kelly s former
colleagues as her potential succes-
sor as chief executive.
"In a sign that the succession
planning at the bank is leaning
towards an internal candidate
when Mrs Kelly calls time, Rob
Chapman has been promoted from
managing director of BankSA in
South Australia to run St George,"
the report said of the two former
Mrs Kelly spent six years at St
George, before moving to Westpac
in February 2008 and launching
a successful takeover bid for her
former employer 10 months later.
Melbourne and Sydney rumours
aside, Mr Chapman s feet remain
planted in South Australia.
He will continue to chair the
UniSA MBA program, remain
involved with Business SA, the
SA chapter of the Committee
for Economic Development of
Australia and the Economic
But on December 1 he becomes
head of the St George group which
employs about 6000 people, includ-
ing the 1000 at BankSA.
Not bad for a boy from Mount
Worth crowing about
Together again: Rob Chapman, who will head St George Bank with Westpac CEO Gail Kelly.
Photo: Tom Roschi
"A long way to go yet": Rob Chapman at the rear of the suits at last December's Adelaide Oval announcement. Photo: Kate Elmes
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