Game changer

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Australia’s ‘letterman’ Ahmed Fahour will speak at IEC Awards this year

Alys Francis

Described as “Australia’s George Clooney”, a “diligent networker” and “relentlessly charming”, Ahmed Fahour is known almost as much for his flamboyant personality as his corporate prowess.

He once reportedly sent shockwaves through the members’ enclosure at the Melbourne Cup for waltzing in wearing a cream suit.

But you likely know him as the high profile CEO of Australia Post. He’s the man who was charged with steering the iconic Australian company in 2010, at a time when it was being battered by the rise of the Internet – which saw email rapidly replacing letters. Calling Australia Post “a national treasure”, Fahour set in place a new customer-focused business model, and is targeting growing opportunities in e-commerce.

How exactly did Fahour get to be behind the wheel at Australia’s postal giant? To fully appreciate his corporate journey it’s best to start at the beginning.

Born in Lebanon in 1966, Fahour migrated to Australia with his parents in 1970. The family had settled into a terrace house in Melbourne’s north when Fahour’s father Abdul was seriously injured in 1976. A tram crashed into the family car. Fahour told Fairfax the moment he saw his father being taken away in an ambulance he decided it was his responsibility to look after his mother and siblings. He was 10 years old at the time.

Fahour excelled at school. After attending St Joseph’s and Redden Colleges in Melbourne, he graduated from La Trobe University with a first-class honours degree in economics.

He launched his professional career at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 1987, where he consulted on major commercial projects including mergers, acquisitions, and corporate strategy. In 1993, Fahour completed a Master of Business Administration at Melbourne Business School, while continuing to work, and in 1997 he became a director of the consulting group.

Eventually in 2000, Fahour was enticed to take up an attractive post at Citigroup, which saw him shift to New York City. There he made his mark as Head of Corporate Development and later as CEO of Citigroup Alternative Investments – while also serving on the company’s Global Management Committee. He was then appointed as Citigroup’s CEO for Australia and New Zealand.

Fahour scored another feather in his corporate cap after joining National Australia Bank (NAB) in 2004 as Executive Director and Australian CEO. His leadership saw a major turnaround in the bank’s performance and its wealth management subsidiary.

In early 2010, Fahour took up the role as Managing Director and CEO of Australia Post, which propelled him further into the public spotlight. Having the tough task of saving the postal company at a time of disruptive industry change, Fahour has become known for his rousing speeches to Australia Post workers.

Throughout his career the media has zeroed in on Fahour’s ability to command top dog salaries. At National Australia Bank’s Australian operations his sign on fee was reportedly $13.5 million and a Maserati is said to be parked in his garage. But he’s also known for his philanthropy. In 2014, he passed up the chance to take an incentive payment, asking the Australia Post board to donate $2.85 million to the Islamic Museum of Australia on his behalf instead.

Fahour is also respected as a trailblazer for multiculturalism in Australia.

It was fellow multicultural icon, broadcaster Waleed Aly who called him “relentlessly charming”. Describing the corporate high flyer to Fairfax, Aly said: “He feels very self-made in the sense that he built what he is from the ground up.”