Rob Chapman’s contribution to leadership in South Australia is truly extraordinary.
He is Chair of the Adelaide Football Club, the Adelaide Airport, Chair of the State’s Inaugural Investment Attraction Agency and a Director of Vinomofo (one of Australia’s fastest growing companies). He also chairs Barossa Infrastructure, Fortis Ago Corporate Advisory, The Engine Room and Perks Integrated Business Services. He is Deputy Chair of the South Australian Economic Development Board, the South Australian Economic Development Cabinet Committee and a director of TAFE.
Born and educated in Adelaide, he lived a carefree life in Mt Barker which was then a small country town where you could leave the house unlocked and the keys in the car. He became a boarder at the prestigious Sacred Heart College that was known for producing elite AFL footballers including Matthew Pavlich, Chad and Kane Cornes, Jason Porplyzia and Simon Tregenza. An elite kick himself, Rob was overlooked by the AFL scouts, which he thinks is because of his height. Management has no such restrictions so Rob ended up chairing the Adelaide Football Club (the Crows).
An alumnus of the South Australian Institute of Technology, Rob graduated in 1983 with an Associate Diploma in Business. He believes his degree was a great preparation for his professional life, as it covered the many disciplines such as management, leadership and organisational structure that formed the bedrock of his future career.
‘I’m glad I chose business,’ he says. ‘My first jobs were in the insurance and funds management industries and they had excellent career training programs that built on the disciplines I had learned at SAIT.’
‘I liked the aspect of money,’ he also says. ‘I liked dealing in super funds. I could see the power of superannuation and insurance. I was also interested in planning and strategy but the people side of the business was most exciting. I love getting people to achieve great things.’
Rob has had some strong role models along the way: his parents who taught him discipline and the rewards that come from hard work; as a boarder at Sacred Heart he learned self-sufficiency; from the Crows’ John Reid he learned the importance of consistency in decision-making; and Westpac’s Gail Kelly showed him the power of raw leadership, the true art of leading people and aligning them to the mission in front of them.
His career highlights include Chair of the BankSA Advisory Board, Managing Director of BankSA, Chief Executive of St George Bank and the Regional General Manager (WA, SA, NT) of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Promotions saw him move to the eastern states and each move he made was followed by a move back home to Adelaide. There was a posting in Brisbane, followed by a return home to Adelaide; a job in Sydney, then Adelaide again; a role in Melbourne, then back to Adelaide where he took up an executive role in banking.
While the interstate opportunities gave him, his wife and their four children exposure to different people and made them new friends, the moves were tough. He is a passionate South Australian who was lured back to his home state by family, friends and the history of the place he knew so well.
‘It’s a great place to live and work,’ he says. ‘It has a big enough economy to run successful businesses yet small enough that you can still live well.’
It is an attitude that has won him the role of head of the State Investment Attraction Agency where he has a war chest of $15 million to attract national and international businesses to South Australia.
The opportunity to help the State transition from old smokestack industries to new endeavours in future industries such as biotechnology, health, tourism and education is a great motivation. He is especially keen to promote stronger ties between business, government and academia because strong economies around the world have been built on all three sectors working in collaboration.
Rob knows the South Australian economy has had its challenges but, ‘I’m a glass half full kind of guy. I’m excited about the State’s future and I love seeing other people excited about their ideas. And there are lots of them here.’
He recognises that the future of the State’s economic health lies not just in transforming big businesses but in helping grow small and medium businesses as well. One of the companies he chairs, The Engine Room, is devoted to the business leaders of the future, with about 900 business owners all young and all intent on creating, inspiring, investing and building their companies.