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Defence industry figure to lead Premier and Cabinet

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The Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s new chief executive Jim McDowell says he has inherited “very, very poor” organisations before and he is prepared to make difficult decisions.

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McDowell, the current Chancellor of the University of South Australia and former chief executive of BAE Systems in Australia and Saudi Arabia, was announced as the new DPC chief executive this morning.

He will receive a pay package of $550,000 a year on a five-year contract – a salary that Premier Steven Marshall described as “commensurate” with the role and a slight increase on the salary of former DPC chief executive Dr Don Russell.

McDowell will take over from acting chief executive Erma Ranieri, who was temporarily placed into the role after Marshall removed Russell soon after the March election.

At the time of Russell’s axing – which coincided with the sacking of three other senior public service figures – Marshall said the Liberal Government had a “very different direction” from the previous government and changes were necessary to implement its agenda.

Ranieri, who will finish as acting CE at the end of this month, has been promoted to a new “strategic workforce and leadership development” role in the public sector under a three-year contract.

She will retain her position as Commissioner for Public Sector Employment.

At a press conference this morning, McDowell said Ranieri had been “extremely gallant and noble” through the transition process.

He declined to comment on the current state of the Department, which has been rocked recently by a legal case involving the alleged appointment of employees in high-paying executive positions with fake qualifications.

“I shan’t be pre-judging anything until I get in and have a good look around,” McDowell told reporters.

“I haven’t walked through the door yet so I’ll have an outsider’s opinion on things, but like most opinions you’re best keeping them to yourself until you’ve got the facts to substantiate them.”

When questioned on the challenges that he might face in the role, McDowell said he had experience with inheriting organisations that were “very, very poor” that he made “rather better”.

“BAE Systems Australia was a $300 million business and it was losing quite a lot of money when I took it over, but by the time I left it was $1.8 billion and making quite a bit of money,” he said.

“That’s a significant turn-around in any organisation and if difficult decisions need to be made they’ll be made but they’ll be made on the basis of evidence.”

McDowell will resign as a board member from three companies including the RAA and mining technology company Codan to move into the new Department role in September.

He said leaving his post as University of South Australia chancellor was the “greatest sadness”.

“That’s the gig I’ve enjoyed the most and you could say it’s analogous to this gig because I didn’t know virtually anything about it before I was in it.”

McDowell will retain his board membership with the Adelaide Football Club, his son’s school and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – a position that Marshall described as “a real coup” for South Australia.

McDowell said his former role with BAE Systems in Australia and Saudi Arabia would be a “great help” to understanding the landscape and why companies make decisions.

“It (defence) is a world that I’ve inhabited… I’ve been in it for 37 years, certainly finishing up at a senior level, running multi-billion dollar businesses in the sector.”

Marshall said McDowell had “a wealth of experience” in the defence and space industries, which he said were critical sectors for South Australia’s economy.

“I think that it was very important to send a very clear signal to the public service in South Australia that we have secured an exceptional person to lead the Department of Premier and Cabinet, to lead the transition that we need to make as a state.”

Marshall said McDowell was on a “significantly” higher salary in the private sector but he decided to take up the chief executive role because he was “absolutely dedicated to this state.”

McDowell said he had lived in South Australia for most of the past 18 years and felt he “owed” something to the state.

“I do owe something to the state and I’d very much like to start to repay that in my dotage.”

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