The chief executive elect of AMP Ltd, once a financial services giant in size and stature – boasting for a time the advertising slogan: ‘We will always be there’ – faces the biggest task of her career. Her track record could not be better.
The advertising slogan sounded good, if overly ambitious, for its post-IPO times. The sector’s predilection for M&A activity pre-dates even the Hawke-Keating financial deregulation of the early 1980s.
Perhaps AMP’s motto in its stated founding purpose would have been better: ‘Amicus Certus in Re Incerta’, meaning ‘A sure friend in uncertain times’. Or the more recent slogan ‘Have the life you want’ – always good advice, if a little shallow.
Before she joined AMP the first time around 20 years ago, George already had experience solving problems. She got the pre-Westpac BT out of a hole with its asset servicing outsourcing arm by selling it to J.P. Morgan in 2000. BT had a purpose-built outsourcing hub constructed and generously staffed in Adelaide but the trend for fund managers to make separate profit centres out of their backoffices didn’t last.
She left not long after, joining AMP’s investment administration arm, which had become part of the group’s UK-based Cogent asset servicing business, which was inherited in the ill-fated takeover of the Henderson funds management group in 1998.
George was an integral part of the divestment of Cogent to BNP Paribas in 2002, helping not only in the sale process but then taking responsibility for implementing the transition as the Sydney-based head of BNP’s securities services local headquarters.
Next came ING Australia, in 2003, as executive director across financial services. It was at ING in Australia, Europe and Hong Kong, where she demonstrated she was more than a good salesperson. She could grow a business organically too.
At ING in Sydney for four years, George was involved in restructuring the product team and launched several new products in 2006 and 2007. On her watch, sales improved, as did penetration due to better engagement with dealer groups.
Surprising the market, she then took up an opportunity with ING in Prague where she developed a five-year strategy for the insurance and direct banking business, which regained its number three ranking in the Czech and Slovak republics, after a range of new products.
She moved to Hong Kong with ING in August 2011 to head up the insurance business for the APAC region, which was put up for sale by the parent a few months later. George took on the project to sell the region-wide operation country by country, which took more than two years.
After the sales were mostly completed she moved back to Sydney, which the family of four was not unhappy to do, and she became regional head of operations, marketing and product with ING Insurance. She left the firm at the end of 2013 to join ANZ.
After two years as global managing director for insurance and the wealth business, she was promoted to group executive level running wealth, overseeing the protracted sale process of that business to IOOF. She still officially holds this position after being promoted again, in 2018, to her current deputy-CEO role.
AMP said in its April 1 announcement that she would start her new job there in the third quarter, but the talk is it will be in the first half of that period, if not earlier.
While the focus had been on the outgoing CEO, Francesco De Ferrari, whose departure was confirmed after days of rumours, no mention was made of Scott Hartley, the CEO of AMP Australia.
Hartley, who had spent nearly 15 years at the NAB group, including senior positions at MLC (starting when it was owned by Lend Lease), Plum and JANA before a successful six years running Sunsuper. He would probably have also been considered for the top CEO role.
Greg Bright is publisher of Investor Strategy News (Australia)