How the ‘nice bond bloodbath’ lit the finance spark for Westpac’s new treasurer

Joanne Dawson says Westpac chief executive Peter King has been a big supporter.

“I’d worked in a very junior role and that was where I really saw financial markets and what they were and what they did. That was probably the spark that interested me in following that as part of my career,” Dawson says in her first interview as treasurer with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

As group treasurer, she is liable for protecting the financial institution afloat, a strong however little-understood function, by no means extra essential than throughout instances of disaster such because the COVID-19 induced recession.

Dawson, or “Jo” as she’s recognized inside Westpac, has to stability the financial institution’s books throughout every of its divisions. When money is tight, it’s her name if Westpac ought to elevate capital or promote property.

“It’s the bank’s bank,” she says.

Earlier this 12 months, Westpac chief government Peter King quelled investor fears of a possible capital elevating, saying the financial institution’s stability sheet was “well-positioned” to soak up the affect of COVID-19. All of the most important banks have needed to put aside capital to soak up dangerous money owed because the nation faces the sharpest financial shock for the reason that 1930s.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will hand down the finances on Tuesday outlining the federal government’s plans to rebuild the financial system – the identical day the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) fingers down its choice on the money charge.


Dawson recurrently talks to RBA officers to debate the affect of charge cuts on the financial system. “We’re speaking on a daily basis,” she says. “They’re very interested in what’s happening across the market and what’s happening more broadly across the economy and any insight we can provide.”

Dawson, who’s thought to be a rising star in Westpac, will not speculate on whether or not the RBA may reduce charges into destructive territory, or what a Trump or Biden victory might imply for international markets. Neither will the banking high-flyer talk about the $1.three billion high-quality handed to Westpac by the monetary crimes company AUSTRAC final month.

But because the financial institution navigates the worldwide pandemic, the deep recession and reels from agreeing to pay the biggest high-quality in Australian company historical past, Dawson stays calm.

“In all of these things, having a good sense of humour is what gets you through,” she says.

After Bankers Trust, Dawson studied economics at Macquarie University, landed a job on the Insurance Australia Group as a portfolio supervisor the place she spent six years earlier than becoming a member of Westpac’s treasury in 2003. She rose via the Westpac ranks over the next 17 years.

Dawson now runs a staff of about 100 folks and studies to chief monetary officer Michael Rowland, who began at Westpac this month after being appointed in July. Dawson sees the idea of management as central to her function.

Last 12 months, she was considered one of 69 folks chosen to check a Masters diploma in management on the London Business School. Without a lot fanfare, she and her husband packed up their 4 youngsters – three ladies and one boy aged 4 to 10 – and moved throughout the globe.

‘One of the large issues I’ve had over my profession is alternatives … for me, it’s essential that I now present these alternatives to others.’

Joanne Dawson, Westpac group treasurer

“When you want to do something you can always get things done,” she says. “Like all these things, you can make them happen. And we just did it.”

Dawson says she anticipated high-level tutorial ideas and company “learnings” to be the important thing focus of the course, however on the finish of the 12 months, it was the folks she met and the ability of self-awareness that stood out.

“It’s understanding yourself and being comfortable to be yourself,” she says. “It’s critical a leader has their own self-confidence but also the confidence of those who work for them.”

Westpac was criticised final month after a management reshuffle left solely two girls on the board, in one other signal gender equality in company Australia goes backwards.

Dawson is the primary girl to grow to be Westpac’s group treasurer, and whereas she doesn’t prefer to “overplay” the gender card, she acknowledges a variety of views is essential.

“One of the things you do learn at business school is that you need to have lots of different lenses and perspectives on things and obviously that’s critical so that you don’t head down one path without seeing what the risks and the challenges might be.”

Dawson grew up on a small farm close to Cowra in NSW and her childhood was spent outside together with her two brothers, using horses and being energetic. “I never really felt like I was treated any differently.”

She is fast to defend Westpac’s method to gender equality and needs her management to be outlined by giving others alternatives and stacking the staff with folks smarter than herself. “One of the big things I’ve had over my career is opportunities,” she says. “For me, it’s important that I now provide those opportunities to others.”

Joanne Dawson says Westpac chief government Peter King has been an enormous supporter.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Dawson credit a few of Westpac’s most senior bankers with supporting her rise to the highest – chief government Peter King, former treasurer Curt Zuber, former institutional financial institution chief Rob Whitfield and deputy chief government Phil Coffey amongst them. The financial institution’s first feminine department supervisor and trailblazer for girls in finance, Helen Lynch, has additionally been instrumental, says Dawson.

“This week, she sent me an email saying congrats on the new role,” Dawson says. “The thing she’s always said is you shouldn’t feel limited. That’s the biggest thing. You can do whatever you want, really. You shouldn’t set yourself limitations.”

Like many younger households, Dawson and her husband have been juggling work and household commitments. Her husband took care of many of the homeschooling duties when Sydney was in lockdown, whereas Dawson labored from their japanese suburbs dwelling. It was throughout this time, Dawson’s sense of humour was an asset.

“I had many Web-ex’s with pretty important people in this organisation where my kids would come in, running in behind me asking who’s on the screen? Is that nanna?”

One notably essential dialog with Westpac’s former institutional financial institution chief, Lyn Cobley, was interrupted by her four-year-old wanting a snack. “You just had to laugh. There’s no other way to deal with that,” she says. “He wasn’t giving up because he wanted those cashews.”

Despite the enormity of the problem forward, Dawson’s expertise in Westpac’s treasury through the international monetary disaster has given her a primer.

It was a Sunday afternoon – October 12, 2008 – when Dawson had simply completed catching up on work in Westpac’s workplace. She was leaving the constructing when she ran into then-head of investor relations Andrew Bowden within the lobby who instructed her the federal government had simply introduced it will assure all giant deposits and wholesale borrowings for Australian banks.

“I turned around and went straight back to my desk to find out what was happening,” she says.

At the time, Dawson was 31-years-old. She rapidly wrapped her head round how the assure would affect the financial institution. Then-group treasurer Curt Zuber was in Washington on the International Monetary Fund, so the subsequent day Dawson discovered herself on the RBA’s head workplace with deputy governor Ric Battellino and the opposite large banks determining how the assure would work.

Though COVID-19 and the GFC are vastly totally different beasts, Dawson says her method stays largely the identical. It’s about getting info on the desk, coping with unsure info and making the best selections to guard the financial institution’s prospects, she says.

“COVID is like lots of things we deal with on a regular basis. We get new information all the time,” she says. “We deal with the information that we have and respond in appropriate ways.”

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