AIB Featured Business Leader – Ahmed Fahour
As a child, young Ahmed used to help his father clean the branches of the National Australia Bank, wiping surfaces when all the staff had left. By 2008, he was the head of the NAB’s Australian operations, earning a cool $7 million that year alone. Best known for his tenure as Australia Post’s CEO, a role he has kept since 2010, 49-year-old Fahour is an immigrant success story who has already left an indelible mark on Australian society. He holds a first-class degree in Economics, an MBA and is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law at La Trobe University.
Fahour arrived in Australia with his parents at the age of three, fleeing war-torn Lebanon. Fahour excelled throughout his education and went on to gain a first-class Economics degree from La Trobe University in 1984. While working for Boston Consulting Group, he completed his Masters of Business Administration in 1993. He was known as a hot-shot right from the beginning, impressing some people and confronting others. George Pappas, one of BCG’s founders, remembers Fahour as being unsubtle, and “not short of self-confidence”. Like him or loathe him, Fahour’s rise through the ranks was unusually fast, and he became a director of the Australian arm of BCG by the age of 30. In 2000, he moved to the US to take up the post of head of corporate development at Citigroup, but only stayed away for four years. His love of Australia saw him and his family (Fahour is married with four children) move back in 2004.
In 2005, NAB enticed Fahour to come across from Citibank. With a package worth $34 million over four years, one can presume he didn’t need much enticing: the outgoing boss said in a general meeting that same year, that Fahour had been paid more in his first three months with the bank than he himself had taken home in 40 years. Although he improved NAB’s results, reactions to his management style were mixed. Some considered his drive and passion an asset; others worried that it would put people off side.
Ultimately, Fahour was passed over for the top job in 2008 and resigned soon afterwards, heading to Bahrain to run Gulf Finance House. Like his former stint in the US, though, this was to be a short absence, and he returned to Australia just six months later to take on the position of CEO at Australia Post. The position commenced on 1 January 2010, at a time when Australia Post was already facing some significant challenges, posting steep profit declines in the financial years 08-09 and 09-10. In the face of continuing declines in letter volumes due to the rise of electronic communication, Fahour made changes to the business model, concentrating on service provision, which reversed the decline for the next two years. The company experienced further losses in 12-13 though, despite the shift in focus to parcel delivery and over-the-counter services. Fahour admitted in September of this year that physical letter posting is in “terminal and structural decline” and is waiting on an ACCC agreement to allow his company to raise the price of a stamp from 70c to $1 effective from the New Year.
Throughout this turbulent time, Fahour has continued to draw a huge salary, which has attracted some media criticism. A practising Muslim, he has also donated signifiant amounts of his wealth to promoting Islamic culture within Australia, including to the Islamic Museum of Australia which was founded by his brother. That’s not the only cause that he’s contributed to – Fahour has long championed micro-credit loans and bequests that give disadvantaged people a leg up – but as he explained in a 2008 interview, his religion precludes him from boasting about those contributions. “The ultimate form”, he says, “of what you do is when you do it without anyone else knowing it”.
It may be that even Fahour, with all his experience and determination, cannot save Australia Post. But he feels the responsibility keenly. “This is a national treasure, Australia Post”, he says.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.
Image Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald