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Banking sector nabs former Premier


NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn called Mike Baird just two days after he quit as NSW premier to see if he was interested in resuming his banking career.

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Six weeks later, the answer is clear.

National Australia Bank has announced that Baird, who in January retired from politics saying he wanted to spend more time with his family, would be chief customer officer for its corporate and institutional banking unit.

Baird said the approach, which came among what he called a “deluge” of others, came as a surprise – but chief executive Andrew Thorburn had been laying the groundwork for a while.

“I had known Mike from years gone by in the public space and, at various times we’d spoken at conferences, I’d joked and said: ‘when Mike’s ready to leave politics, I wanted him to phone me because I wanted to talk about opportunities’,” Thorburn said on Tuesday.

He called Baird soon after he heard about his January 19 resignation.

“Now, I was a wee bit slow because I didn’t get there until Saturday … and, by the time I got to him, he’d had four other people knocking on his door,” the banking boss said.

Thorburn said it was a coincidence that NAB had been well advanced on screening candidates for the role, which is one of 10 reporting directly to the chief executive.

“We put him through all the same processes that all the other people I’d seen had been through, and he came through as the clear winner,” Thorburn said.

Baird, who started his career in 1989 at NAB’s St Ives branch in Sydney and has worked in corporate banking with Deutsche Bank and HSBC, said he had been shocked by the number of job offers he’d received.

“When I finished public life – and that was an incredible privilege – in my mind I wasn’t clear where I was going to go. But, over the past few weeks as I’ve considered various opportunities that have been presented, what is very clear is this is the best,” Baird said.

“It’s still important to me to continue to take some time to re-energise and refresh, but I can assure you when I’ve done that I’ll be very excited about an incredible opportunity.”

Baird, who succeeded Barry O’Farrell as NSW premier in 2014, pushed through the privitisation of the state’s electricity network following the Liberal-National coalition’s 2015 re-election but quit citing serious health challenges facing his parents and sister.

Although NAB is headquartered in Melbourne, Baird will be based in Sydney when he starts in mid-April.

Confident he’s got the right man, Thorburn is in no rush to get him through the door.

“He made it clear to me he needed time,” Thorburn said.

“If he needs more, he’ll get it.”


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