Macquarie’s new CEO strikes a blow for asset management – and women

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By:
Chris Wright
Published on:

The announcement on Thursday that Shemara Wikramanayake will replace Nicholas Moore as CEO of Macquarie Group in November is significant for two reasons.

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The first is that it underlines the fact that Macquarie is now far more of an asset manager than an investment bank.

Wikramanayake has run the asset management unit, with A$495.1 billion under management, for a decade. In the 2018 financial year, Macquarie Asset Management accounted for 33% of group net profit, the biggest of the five constituent businesses at Macquarie; it is now among the top 50 asset managers in the world.

During Wikramanayake’s tenure – she took over the business in 2008, but has been with Macquarie since 1987 – the whole bank has been reinvented, with 70% of profits now coming from what Moore calls annuity-style businesses (asset management, corporate and asset finance, banking) and only 30% from capital markets-facing businesses (Macquarie Capital, commodities and global markets).


That’s how it’s going to stay. Businesses such as asset management are predictable, robust and generate strong and diversified income streams. Her appointment simply cements it.

The other significance is that, even 10 years on from Gail Kelly taking the CEO job at Westpac, women are still rare at the chief executive level in Australian financial services.

Welcome addition

Wikramanayake, a woman of Sri Lankan heritage, is a welcome addition to the top table – and with Macquarie perhaps the country’s ultimate meritocracy, there is nothing token about it.

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Shemara
Wikramanayake,
Macquarie

Analysts are digesting the news and are generally pleased with it. 

UBS states: “We hold her in very high regard and believe she has been fundamental in Macquarie’s success.”

Few expect notable changes to the way the bank is run, and indeed there is some commonality in approach: Wikramanayake is considered somewhat publicity-shy and modest. Moore, while not exactly shy, is certainly reserved and not given to bombast.

One lingering question comes from when the CEO role last changed hands in 2008. Then, Allan Moss handed over to Moore, in what history has judged as one of the most well-timed exits in history: within a year Moore was up to his neck in the global financial crisis and fending off rumours that the entire bank was going to go under. Moss was enjoying casual strolls around Sydney’s Middle Harbour in retirement.

Moore deserves enormous credit for revamping the bank entirely and turning it into the powerhouse it is today. But is he, too, leaving at the top? Australian banks have never been so intensely scrutinized and as publicly reviled as they are today, while a rising interest-rate cycle will bring challenges.

Wikramanayake will not have it easy.