Alan Joyce is Australia’s highest-paid chief executive.
Alan Joyce is one of the Financial Review’s ten most covertly powerful people.
Alan Joyce writes heartwarming notes to children.
Alan Joyce is getting married.
And he is apparently some sort of superhero.
Something about chief executives brings forth testimonials like this, published in the News Corporation tabloids last month, which followed the revelation that Joyce was Australia’s highest paid corporate chief (taking home A$24 million in 2018-19).
Penned by Angela Mollard, a journalist specialising in celebrities, it said he had
turned around a failing company, put thousands of dollars in shareholders’ pockets, boosted the superannuation of Mr and Mrs Average and prevented thousands from losing their jobs.
Joyce, and all the best chief executives, she argued, were
alchemists, strategists, innovators and geniuses. They have the sort of agile brains that produce solutions to problems which seem intractable. They lead not from a textbook but from an internal well of brilliance that seems constantly replenished.
Further, executives like Joyce deserved to be rewarded for
the risks they take, the entrepreneurship they exhibit, the education they’ve invested in and the particular brand of brilliance that comes along all too rarely.
It’s been said before
I’ve been examining the language used to describe Australia’s elite executives over the past 100 years, and what’s being said about Joyce is familiar - right down to the use of the word “genius”.
This kind of talk, repeated for more than a century now, leads us astray if we keep repeating it. It creates misunderstandings about how large companies work. Chief executives aren’t superhuman, their characteristics are not those of their companies, they don’t single-handedly determine the fate of those companies or personally employ their workers, they aren’t necessarily selfless or patriotic, and they don’t necessarily have the best interests of the nation at heart.
Sir Charles Mackellar, chairman of the Mutual Life & Citizens’ Assurance Company and a director of a host of other companies including the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was labelled a “genius” when he died in 1914.
FA Govett, the London-based head of Australia’s Zinc Corporation was labelled as a “man of exceptional ability” in 1926.
Often they had higher ideals.
Like Joyce and his contemporaries that work their “butts off to do the right thing”, Raws was
palpably rich and could be richer; but I doubt if the making of another million would be as much to him as the achievement of one of his cherished hopes.
It’s their own work
Authors: Claire Wright, Research Fellow, Centre for Workforce Futures, Macquarie University