The 10 most powerful people in Australian business in 2020 – afr.com

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30.Sep, 2020 0 news

The 10 most powerful people in Australian business in 2020 – afr.com

2. Brad Banducci

Brad Banducci, Australia’s “grocer-in-chief”. Dominic Lorrimer

The Treasurer doesn’t often worry about the nation’s supply of toilet paper. But the wave of panic buying sparked by COVID-19 saw Josh Frydenberg put the heat squarely on the likes of Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci.

His role as the nation’s grocer-in-chief was unique. In front of the cameras, the boss of Australia’s biggest grocery chain reassured, cajoled and occasionally chastised worried consumers.

Behind the scenes, Woolworths adopted a war footing, rapidly restructuring supply lines, employing thousands more staff and doubling its online capacity in three months.

3. Rob Scott

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Australia needs to learn to live with the virus, says Rob Scott. Philip Gostelow

Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott has long been one of the business community’s more outspoken leaders, but the pandemic has seen him amplify calls for the nation to emerge from recession with lasting economic reform in areas such as tax, industrial relations and reducing red tape.

As the nation’s biggest conglomerate, Wesfarmers has felt the swings and roundabouts of pandemic demand; sales at Bunnings and Officeworks soared as we worked, learnt and cocooned at home, but earnings fell at its chemicals and industrials businesses.

Scott now is bracing for a long recovery, warning Australia must learn to live with the virus and keep economies open.

4. Andrew Forrest

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Andrew Forrest: Outspoken with influence that is extensive. Ben Sklar

If money talks, then the $1.86  billion in cash dividends that Andrew Forrest received from iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group during 2020 must surely mark the billionaire as one of our loudest voices.

What’s particularly stunning about Forrest’s power and influence is its breadth. Beyond his natural areas of interest of mining and Australia’s relationship with China, Forrest has been outspoken on Indigenous affairs, agriculture, pollution, slavery, philanthropy and health.

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At the height of the COVID-19 crisis he secured vital medical supplies for both Chinese partners and Australian health authorities. Before that, he pledged $70 million for bushfire recovery and prevention.

5. Anthony Eisen & Nick Molnar

Anthony Eisen and Nick Molnar are now focusing on North America and Europe. James Brickwood

When a stock becomes a barbecue stopper in the way that Afterpay has this year, you know there’s something special going on. But the influence of co-founders Anthony Eisen and Nick Molnar – our only joint entry – goes well beyond the sharemarket.

The success of the buy now, pay later group has changed the way millions of Australians shop, spend and use credit, and made Eisen and Molnar crucial to the success of thousands of retailers.

Their focus is now on North America and Europe, where impressive growth rates appear to be cementing buy now, pay later as a key part of the global payments ecosystem.

Nagging regulatory concerns remain in some jurisdictions, including Australia, but Eisen and Molnar have so far proven adept at dancing around major problems.

6. Solomon Lew

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Solomon Lew’s stance on rent could change the retail sector forever. Paul Jeffers

There’s nothing new about the struggle between retail landlords and tenants over rent. But retail maverick Solomon Lew, confidant of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, took tensions to a new level this year when he shut his stores in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, citing safety concerns, and declared he wouldn’t pay rent while they were closed.

It was a move designed to show landlords that the power balance in retail had changed for good – Lew’s argument is that as shopping moves online, retailers can no longer accept the fixed rents with annual rises that have been standard for so long.

So far, Lew’s bluff hasn’t been called, and he’s even moved to his preferred model of paying rent according to a percentage of sales. If he can hold onto that ground, the retail sector will be changed forever.

7. Christine Holgate

As shopping from home skyrocketed, Christine Holgate’s power surpassed that of her predecessors. Alex Ellinghausen

There’s always been a certain level of prestige in holding the role of Australia’s top postie. But the pandemic has delivered Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate a level of power not held by her predecessors for decades.

The combination of stay-at-home orders and booming online sales has meant Holgate has held the fortunes of thousands of businesses in her hands, as AusPost has struggled to deal with a parcel surge that she has repeatedly compared to the Christmas period.

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But the constant game of catch-up has been good for AusPost’s finances: revenue rose 7 per cent to $7.5 billion in the 2020 financial year, with profit up 30 per cent to $53.6  million.

Questions over whether Holgate intervened to deliver One Nation-branded stubby holders to locked-down residents in Melbourne underline the breadth of issues that reach her in-tray.

8. Paul Perreault

As potential COVID-19 treatments are developed, Paul Perreault’s influence may grow further.  Eamon Gallagher

A good test of power in Australia is whether or not the prime minister would take the candidate’s call. But CSL chief executive Paul Perreault moves in different circles.

On July 30 he found himself sitting with US President Donald Trump as part of a roundtable of industry figures urging Americans to donate more blood to help the development of plasma-based therapies for COVID-19. It’s a neat symbol of how CSL and its quietly spoken CEO are far more than just darlings of the local sharemarket.

Perreault has built the group into an international health powerhouse and, with no less than five potential COVID-19 treatments under development, his global reach may grow further. His power is set to grow in light of the deal with Canberra to produce 80 million vaccine doses.

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9. Mark Delaney

Mark Delaney was at the centre of a capital-raising spree. Eamon Gallagher

The pandemic has only served to entrench the power of AustralianSuper chief investment officer Mark Delaney in local capital markets.

As the ASX panic peaked in March, the nation’s largest super fund played a prominent role in supporting a staggering capital raising rush that saw investors tip in more than $27 billion to shore up balance sheets – about half the capital raised in the world at the height of the crisis.

Delaney has also been outspoken on issues including the fair treatment of investors, executive pay, climate change and, more recently, Rio Tinto’s Juukan Gorge disaster.

10. Elizabeth Gaines

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Elizabeth Gaines: Prominent leadership and a voice of reason. Philip Gostelow

With BHP chief executive Mike Henry only assuming the Big Australian’s top job in January, and Rio Tinto’s chief Jean-Sebastien Jacques losing his job for blowing up a 46,000-year-old Indigenous site, Fortescue Metals Group boss Elizabeth Gaines has emerged as arguably the most prominent leader in one of the few sectors still filling tax coffers – iron ore.

Aside from her astute leadership of Fortescue, Gaines has emerged as a voice of reason on Australia’s relationship with China, the need for economic reform and clean energy, through Fortescue’s nascent push into hydrogen.

The AFR Magazine annual Power issue is out Friday, October 2, inside The Australian Financial Review. Follow AFR Mag on Twitter and Instagram.

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