David McLean gets 'dream job' heading Westpac NZ

DAVID MCLEAN: Acting NZ chief executive since June last year, when he was flown in from New York.
Peter Meecham

DAVID MCLEAN: Acting NZ chief executive since June last year, when he was flown in from New York.

Westpac's new boss David McLean has been drawn home from the bright lights of New York City by the allure of his "dream job" back in New Zealand.

Former chief executive Peter Clare quit the top job in August last year to focus on his recovery from major heart surgery.

The career banker was officially named chief executive today, having filled in since June last year after his predecessor, Peter Clare, stepped down for health reasons.

Unusually for the leader of an Australian-owned bank, McLean is a New Zealander, as is his rival at ASB,  Barbara Chapman.

Big banks have often been used as a training ground of sorts for Australian executives.

National Australia Bank's current and former chief executive, Andrew Thorburn and Cameron Clyne, both did their time heading up the BNZ before moving back across the Tasman.

McLean, who attended Wellington College before getting a law degree from Victoria University, said he was excited to have landed the top role.

"This is sort of my dream job in a way," he said. "Because I do know the business very well, and I know New Zealand very well, I think we can do great things."

McLean has been with Westpac for 15 years, and previously headed up the bank's New Zealand institutional, private and wealth management businesses.

He said his local knowledge meant he would not need a honeymoon period to get up to speed with market conditions.

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While based in New York heading up Westpac's institutional Americas division, he said he had kept close tabs on the bank's local operations and on New Zealand in general.

"When you're overseas, you get together with other Kiwis for a drink pretty regularly, find all the bars that have the rugby on TV, and stay in touch with the news," he said.

Coming home had not been a difficult decision, said McLean.

"New York was an amazing place to live. I think it did change me in some ways.

"But there's nothing like coming home to New Zealand, even just arriving at the airport. The light is brighter, the grass is greener."

McLean said the last seven months had given him a chance to work out where the business was at and what the big issues were.

However, he said he would not be bringing in his own people, as they were already there, nor making any sweeping changes of direction.

"We have a good strategy. We don't need to change our vision. I think it's the right vision for this market."

McLean's predecessor had a particular focus on technology, with the goal of making Westpac NZ the best digital bank in the world.

"The problem with being the best digital bank in the world is it's not a race to the finish line. It'll be going on forever," McLean said.

"We absolutely have to keep innovating."

While the New Zealand economy was in "great shape", McLean said challenges would include the regulatory response still flowing through from the global financial crisis.

"We've got to make sure we've learnt the lessons from the last slowdown, and we don't repeat those."

Digital disrupter were also proving to be a threat to many industries, and McLean said banking was no different.

While the bank was "not afraid" of the likes of peer-to-peer lenders, it would watch closely to determine whether they were were filling a small niche or likely to be more serious rivals.

"We need to make sure we're nimble and responsive," he said.

At the same time, McLean said competition from mainstream lenders would remain intense.

"I don't see that slackening off at all," he said. "It's a great time to be a mortgage borrower."

 - Stuff

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