CEO, National Australia Bank
Born in: Penrith, NSW
Friends: Wayne Swan
Home Town: Sydney
One of the first things Cameron Clyne did when arriving at NAB was pull down the partitions separating workers. And there's no glassed in corner office with city views for the youngest ever head of the big four bank -- Clyne likes to tell people he works at a desk, just like everyone else.
It's this kind of approach that sets him apart. Sure, Clyne might look more like a nightclub bouncer than a big-time banker -- at 198 centimetres, with shoulders as broad as a barn door -- but the former rugby union lock-forward's style is all soft touch.
He says he relishes people telling him where he has gone wrong, just as long as it is constructive: "If you have to get past five secretaries and three security doors to find me, staff are very unlikely to bring me a problem," he once told The Sunday Times.
He must be on to something because this consultant-turned-banker is enjoying one of the most stratospheric career paths in the country; just take a look at his CV.
At just 26, he was anointed youngest ever partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And, at 40, he was made NAB's youngest ever head. Now, two-and-a-half years later, he's making an audacious bid to pinch as many mortgages from his rivals as he can.
Clyne has been the driving force behind NAB's aggressive "break up" strategy, the advertising campaign it launched on Valentine's Day this year to try to woo customers from the other banks. Recently more of a business lender, Clyne's push to bulk up NAB's retail banking -- based on a promise that NAB is "different" from the other majors -- has so far been a success.
Some 225,000 customers shifted their allegiance to NAB in the five months after the break up, a big win for the bank. As a result, Clyne was able to book a 22% increase in first-half profit this year, helped along by a 1% rise in its share of home loans.
Clyne says the thinking behind the campaign came down to two things; increasing the bank's credit growth in difficult conditions and tapping into a growing mood of distrust towards banks.
"It was the cheapest advertising campaign we've ever run, it was very reliant on social media," he told an Australian Business School Meet The CEO event recently.
But there is a risky side to Clyne's big play. NAB is still smarting from having to write down more than $1 billion worth of investments during the US subprime mess. It also faced investor anger after revealing bad debts arising out of Britain.
Meanwhile, housing prices have been stagnant in Australia for a while now, while economics figures haven't been much better. And don't even mention the state of the market. If the economy starts to tank and NAB's bold move comes back to bite it, Clyne could be in the gun.
"The residual question mark is whether Clyne can sustain what is ultimately a discounting strategy and come up with other strategies for differentiating NAB's brand," says Steve Bartholomeusz from Business Spectator.
But regardless of what happens, you can be sure the affable 43-year-old will keep on fighting.
A keen sportsman, Clyne grew up in Penrith as the oldest (but smallest) of three brothers. He experienced a "fairly traditional" upbringing and was encouraged to work while attending Catholic all-boys school St Dominic's College. One of his first jobs was loading the Sunday paper delivery trucks at News Limited.
After finishing high school, Clyne went on to study a bachelor of arts (he is a great believer in generalist education) at University of Sydney, as well was working part-time at accounting and advisory firm Arthur Andersen.
Not long after, Clyne moved south to PricewaterhouseCoopers in Melbourne, where he played two international rugby matches for Victoria — one against the All Blacks and the other against the Springboks.
He may have since hung up the boots, but Clyne still brings some of what he learnt on the field to the world of banking. And he makes no apologies for that:
"It's a game of inches and I'm a competitive person and I want to beat the other three," he told students earlier this year.
A member of the exclusive Tattersall's Club (one of Sydney's big gentlemen's clubs), Clyne's hobbies are pretty typical corporate fare. Apart from being a keen rugby supporter, he enjoys cricket and cycling ("All the pathetic mid-life crises are hitting me at once," is how he described donning the Lycra). He also fancies himself as bit of an ocean swimmer, having once swum the Bondi-to-Bronte and Alcatraz Challenge.
And it's that competitive nature that has continued to fuel his career from management consultant to big-time bank. In 1996, he packed his bags to work at PwC in New York, where he was named the firm's youngest-ever partner.
He then spent time in the boardrooms of the Asia-Pacific with PwC, before moving to NAB in 2004 where he was soon sent to manage the Bank of New Zealand brand. In 2009 he became NAB's youngest-ever chief executive.
But it hasn't been all clear sailing since then.
Clyne copped a bloody nose last year, when his bank's $13.3 billion bid to purchase AXA was blocked twice by the ACCC. And then again in November and December, when NAB experienced a series of technological problems in its computer systems, which led to millions of people being frozen out of their bank accounts.
Still, Clyne has won plaudits for his work in improving NAB's customer service ratings, while those close to him say he is intelligent and down-to-earth. He's also laconic and softly-spoken, and says he never raises his voice.
It's clear Clyne is an overachiever. And a powerful individual. As well as controlling the local operations, Clyne is in charge of NAB's group interests -- which include Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank in the UK, who between them have 2.7 million customers and 300 branches.
But it's hard to say where he might end up when he leaves NAB. It might even be politics.
Clyne's name has been tossed around as a perfect fit for the ALP, especially after NAB publicly backed Julia Gillard's carbon tax plan earlier this year (a decision Clyne says was based on economics, not politics). He's also a friend of Wayne Swan and once gave a job to former Kevin Rudd spin doctor George Wright (before Wright went on to become ALP national secretary).
And Clyne has the bloodlines to go into government. Cameron's father, Tony, was head of the NSW finance department and worked for the federal public service, while his great-grandfather, union official Daniel Clyne, was an ALP and Lang Labor MP in the NSW Legislative Assembly for 29 years.
But those close to him reject the suggestion of this Clyne moving into public life: "I would be very surprised if Cameron went into politics," said one senior source. Another says Clyne would be "mad" to think about becoming an MP.
"You don't often see businessmen making the successful transaction towards politics," says one mahogany row insider.
As for the man himself, it's hard to say whether he fancies himself in the mad world of politics. Clyne declined The Power Index's request for an interview.
One thing seems clear though -- he doesn't seem intent on hanging around NAB past his use-by date:
"If you're too open in your post-career aspirations or your timing around what you're going to do, then I think it is quite destabilising and distracting for the organisation," he said recently.
"I'm a great believer in CEOs destroying value by staying too long."