‘It’s unfair’: Big bank CEO’s whinge

NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn has been grilled over his decision to take long service leave while the banking royal commission's final report was being released.

Mr Thorburn cancelled that leave last night to deal with the fallout from the report.

Your Money host Ticky Fullerton interviewed him this morning to discuss its recommendations - and his own future, amid calls for both he and NAB's Chair, Ken Henry, to resign.

"With all this going on, with the Hayne report - you failed the REM report in December, you've got massive restructuring changes, you've got this ASIC action. Was that the right decision. Why on earth did you decide to take extended leave?" Fullerton asked.

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"I think the bigger picture here is the bank, our bank, has a clear strategy, we have a very competent management team, we've laid out to the market what we're doing, and we're implementing that," Mr Thorburn replied.

"I've got the absolute support of our leadership team to implement those things. It's not just me. The CEO is crucial to that, but I've got a very competent team and we've got hundreds of leaders who are mobilised around our strategy to be better for our customers."

"But on reflection, was it not the right decision to take such long leave?" Fullerton pressed.

"Just let me finish," he shot back.

"You have a life outside the company. You know I've got a marriage, I've got children, I've got elderly parents. They're the people who I want to spend some time with.

"And I don't think it's unreasonable, particularly as I've been with the bank 14 years and you build up long service leave, that I do take that. I think that is important for mental and physical health. And to lead in a sustainable, long way. And I want to role model to people inside the company that that's OK to do.

"To your point - the CEO of a big bank, it's always going to be open to criticism if you take extended leave."

Mr Thorburn said he had raised his long service leave with the board a year ago and promised he would come back when the royal commission report was released.

"I've cancelled my leave, effective last night. I'm back," he said.

"But I think it's a bit unfair to think that a CEO can't take leave for their own physical and mental health when they've laid out a plan and they've got an army of very good leaders who are carrying out that strategy."

A still from NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn’s video message to customers this morning. Picture: Twitter
A still from NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn’s video message to customers this morning. Picture: Twitter

Mr Thorburn said the substance of Commissioner Kenneth Hayne's report was "very sound", but got defensive when Fullerton confronted him with the report's direct criticism of both himself and Dr Henry.

"It says that you haven't learned the lessons of the past, you don't know what the right thing to do is. You said that's pretty hard to read. He's thrown the book at you and you disagree with it," she said.

"I agree that when you read the reference to myself and Ken Henry, I found that upsetting and hard to read. I did feel it was harsh," Mr Thorburn said.

"I respect the commissioner's view, you know, he's stated that's his view. I don't share it, because I feel that we are acknowledging, we are making decisions, actions that are proving that we want to rebuild trust with customers.

"I feel that the way he's describing me is the polar opposite of what I want to be and what I am, and the sort of change I'm leading inside the company."

"Can you really change culture if you're not contrite from the get go?" Fullerton asked.

"Ticky I think we have been contrite," he said.

"We've said we have made mistakes, we are sorry, we want to fix them."

Mr Thorburn resisted the calls for him to step down.

"I'm committed, I'm determined, I believe in what we're doing. I believe a leader should be resilient," he said.

"I'm talking with you to try to communicate that I know what the plan should be and I'm committed to seeing it through."

NAB Chairman Ken Henry and CEO Andrew Thorburn. Picture: David Geraghty
NAB Chairman Ken Henry and CEO Andrew Thorburn. Picture: David Geraghty

Mr Hayne singled out NAB in his report, saying it "stands apart" from the other three major banks and criticising Mr Thorburn and Dr Henry by name.

"More particularly, I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly.

"I thought it telling that Mr Thorburn treated all issues of fees for no service as nothing more than carelessness combined with system deficiencies when the total amount to be repaid by NAB and NULIS on this account is likely to be more than $100 million.

"I thought it telling that in the very week that NAB's CEO and Chair were to give evidence before the commission, one of its staff should be emailing bankers urging them to sell at least five mortgages each before Christmas.

"Overall, my fear - that there may be a wide gap between the public face NAB seeks to show and what it does in practice - remains."