Bank chief calls it a day

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 09/04/2014
Southland Times photo
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

SBS Bank chief executive Ross Smith will leave the bank at the end of July.

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Ross Smith led the first building society in the world to become a registered bank but the SBS chief executive says his biggest achievement was getting his wife to stay in Invercargill.

Smith, who is the longest-serving chief executive of any New Zealand bank, will step down in July after 22 years at the helm.

SBS is New Zealand's largest building society, with 14 branches from Invercargill to Tauranga, as well as three HBS Bank branches in Hawke's Bay.

Smith came to Invercargill from Christchurch and since then has "lived and breathed the place" and said it would be hard to leave.

"I told my wife we could be in Invercargill for five years, so the high point [of his career] was managing to convince my wife to stay because I was enjoying it."

Smith started at SBS in 1992, just after it was saved from being sold to Westpac the previous year.

Everyone had perceived SBS to be a "destiny of failure" and helping to sculpt it into something successful was a big achievement.

In October 2008, he played a pivotal role alongside his mentor - former SBS chairman Acton Smith - gaining bank registration for the mutually owned building society.

Significant milestones for Ross Smith included the bank registration, expanding the range of services, opening more branches, creating SBS subsidiary companies; Finance Now, Southsure Assurance and Funds Administration New Zealand, and surviving the global financial crisis.

The timing was right for a new generation to lead the bank and he insists he is not retiring - he would still take business directorship roles.

If circumstances were different in Christchurch, he may have moved back.

Instead, he will move into the home he built in Queenstown, where he would give more time to his wife, Chris, who would not know what to do with him around the house. He was looking forward to having more time for playing golf, mountainbiking and visiting his two daughters in Australia.

SBS chairman John Ward said Ross Smith had been an invaluable member of the SBS Bank team.

"He has successfully managed the entity through challenging times and market transitions."

Acton Smith said during the transition the building society members trusted Ross Smith and gave him their full support.

Since then he had kept the bank moving forward.

He ranked Ross Smith as one of the finest chief executives in the country and felt privileged to have worked alongside him.

The successful profit results demonstrated his merit, he said.

By nature, Ross Smith is a considerate people person but he was competitive - all of which worked out well for SBS, Acton Smith said.

As a leader he was hands on, sometimes demanding but quick to praise, he said. "He can leave SBS in good heart and hold his head high at a job well done."

Ross Smith is a director of Electricity Invercargill and deputy chairman of PowerNet.

Powernet chief executive Jason Franklin said Smith provided excellent oversight and direction and management would continue to work with him in the future.

SBS directors have started the process of recruiting Smith's successor and are expected to make an appointment in the next six weeks.

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Smith's only advice to the new chief executive: "It will be challenging and there will be some unpopular decisions but hang in there and do what you think is right for the organisation."

 

- The Southland Times

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