jacqueline hey

It’s not quite destiny, but when Jacqueline Hey GAICD accepted her first directorship role with Bendigo and Adelaide Bank in 2011, there was a sense she was tapping into her childhood growing up in a tiny town on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula. “There were 20 people in my primary school in Wallington, just down the road from Geelong,” says Hey. “Everyone knew everyone and community was really important. When the opportunity to be on the board of the bank came along, one thing that really appealed to me was their thinking about a community perspective.”

From October, Hey will be at the helm of the community of Australia’s fifth largest retail bank, taking over as chair of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, with more than $71b of assets under management, 7200 staff and 1.7 million customers. It will be the most senior board role she has had, sitting alongside her current non-executive directorships with Qantas, AGL and Cricket Australia.

“As chair, I’m passionate about talking about and representing the bank, especially in the wake of the Royal Commission, where you require a chair in a more leading role,” says Hey.

While the Hayne Royal Commission was a tumultuous time for the finance sector, Hey feels comfortable stepping into the limelight as a banking leader. “It’s more than 10 years since we did away with commissions because we didn’t think they were the right thing for customers,” she says.

“What was seen as unusual is now seen as leading-edge. We have a huge opportunity coming out of the Royal Commission because we’ve had a long-term focus on understanding that the prosperity of our customers, partners, shareholders and communities will be the driver for our success — not the other way around.”

More broadly, she says, the industry needs to ensure it does what it says it will — to focus on being transparent and straightforward with its customers. “The Royal Commission has been a terrific wake-up call for all boards, both in the industry and outside it, to be confident to work in the long-term best interests of customers, shareholders and stakeholders to ensure their business is successful. It’s about making sure boards are informed and asking the right questions, and reminding everyone there is a short, medium and long-term view that must be taken into account in terms of how a company needs to run.”

Hey stresses that one of the most important things a director must do is to act ethically, not just some of the time, but all the time. That relies on all employees of the bank — from the chair and the CEO to the tellers working in the branches — understanding what the vision and purpose of the bank is; an understanding that goes beyond the odd email pinging into staff accounts.

Culture counts

Hey’s belief in the cultural aspects of a company is also informed by her time with telecommunications giant Ericsson. After majoring in economics at the University of Melbourne, she took a graduate position with the Swedish company and stayed for two decades, eventually rising to be CEO of Ericsson in the UK and Australia.

“Working in Sweden for a Swedish firm, I was struck by two things I’ve since carried with me,” she says. “One is that being such a small country with so few people speaking their language, they had an inherent global view. It meant they were open to looking abroad, working abroad and being abroad. Second, they were onto diversity and inclusivity well before anyone else, so I was exposed to D&I [diversity and inclusion] and flexible working early.”

Hey has two pieces of advice for people aspiring to be directors. “You need to do your homework and due diligence before you jump into any role. And it’s important to feel free to say no because you should only take on roles with companies you feel passionate about. There will be good times and bad as a director, and you need to feel that connection to the company — to who they are — to keep sitting on the board. That’s very important, whether it’s an NFP or an ASX board.”

Jacqueline Hey GAICD will speak at Leaders’ Lunch: Ethics for Directors in Melbourne on 18 September.