Unrepentant Mike Smith!

Despite criticism of Smith’s super-regional Asia strategy while running ANZ, the former senior HSBC executive is still one of Australia’s best-connected businessmen in the region …

Fresh from a three-month break in Europe and his 60th birthday celebrations over the weekend, Smith is turning his attention back to Asia in his latest “ambassadorial” role advising PricewaterhouseCoopers. It is not dissimilar to the advisory role he currently has with ANZ.

Smith’s successor, Shayne Elliott, is reining in ANZ’s investment in Asia although the bank says it is not back tracking. While his critics will point to Smith’s Asia strategy as a reason why he should not be advising companies on doing business in Asia, Smith shrugs off that kind of commentary as “uninformed” and that it was always an investment that played to the medium to long term. “We are oppressed by this social sound bite these days where next Thursday is long term. If you think like that you are going to come a cropper….

Smith believes Australian companies are in danger of missing the boat in Asia because they are more comfortable in the English-speaking market and see the region as too risky.

“It is not a question of should I get closer to Asia. The question the boards should be asking themselves is can they afford not to?”

 

Our comment

Today it has emerged that Arianne de Rothschild, President of Edmond de Rothschild BPERE and a swathe of top brass at the bank handed in their notice on July 20th. That was the day of the US Department of Justice filing which implicated their bank in the laundering of money stolen from 1MDB.

The same indictment squarely implicated ANZ (of which Mike Smith was CEO at the relevant time) for managing a series of eye-popping transactions into Najib Razak’s billion dollar AmBank account.

ANZ is the major shareholder of AmBank and as part of Mike Smith’s ‘Asia expansion’ all the most senior officers in KL were staff on secondment from ANZ.

The former owner of AmBank, Hussein Najadi, had raised loud concerns about what was going on at the bank, but Mike and his team failed to take notice. They didn’t even bother to check further when Najidi was shot dead and his son began a crusade to highlight the suspicious circumstances linked to the bank.

Eventually, after Sarawak Report leaked the information on Najib’s shocking accounts and after several regulatory investigations were launched, Smith and his team sacked a couple of junior operatives who had managed Najib’s accounts. Later, in September of last year he too decided to take an early retirement.

But, now he is back preaching! He is plainly confident that Australian regulators will continue to look the other way over this disgraceful episode.  But, those seeking his advice should remember it’s not about whether you should do business with Asia, but HOW you do that business which matters.

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