McKinnon’s ghost still haunts Clive Whincup


blog There was a lovely moment during the CEDA lunch with Westpac chief information officer Clive Whincup at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney yesterday that I suspect perfectly illustrates the current dynamics within Westpac’s technology leadership team.

After the lunch, at which Whincup gave a meandering speech which said almost nothing about anything — except the non-controversial issue of the IT industry skills shortage, a highly ironic topic given Westpac’s current spate of IT redundancies — the Westpac CIO headed out to the lobby outside the Shangri-La’s ballroom, and took questions from the assembled ranks of Australia’s technology press; a process during, which, the executive again said almost nothing, in extraordinarily skillfull fashion.

Right in the middle of the doorstop press conference, who should wander by but Whincup’s predecessor in his role, Bob McKinnon, who stepped back from the Westpac CIO spot in November last year, but continues to hold a strategic oversight post within the bank’s senior ranks.

McKinnon’s good-humoured, almost larrikin style (displayed well in the photo above) is in sharp contrast to that of Whincup, who has a rather earnest but emotionless manner. The two differ also in their level of communication. Where Whincup gave very little insight into Westpac’s IT strategy yesterday or at a similar press briefing last week, McKinnon’s tenure in the same role was marked by both a high degree of transparency and a high degree of public thought leadership.

Yesterday, as McKinnon passed the cluster of journalists huddled around Whincup, he eyed the pack, gave one of his trademark little dry chuckles and made a remark to a colleague, before pausing for a bit and then moving on. I’m not sure that many in the vicinity at the time even realised they were in the company of one of the most experienced and respected technology executives Australia has to offer.

As I witnessed this performance, I couldn’t help but get the sense that McKinnon was thinking to himself how glad he is to have passed on such mundane tasks as briefing journalists to Whincup — tasks he once probably relished but has now grown beyond. And it does make this writer wonder if that is how McKinnon sees his current role in general; having passed on all the less desirable aspects of the Westpac CIO role to Whincup, perhaps much of the higher level strategy and decision-making still rests in McKinnon’s hands, albeit informally. I would certainly not be surprised to hear that few important IT decisions get made at Westpac without McKinnon’s oversight.

Food for thought on a Wednesday afternoon.

Image credit: Westpac