Bank boss a ‘boy from the bush’

August 10, 2017

Robert ‘Bob’ White AO will be forever remembered as the ‘‘boy from the bush’’ who became a pioneer in the banking world.

Mr White, affectionately known as Bob, passed away at an aged care facility in Neutral Bay, NSW on June 10.

About 60 people attended a funeral held at the Deniliquin Uniting Church on July 24 to say goodbye to the 93 year-old.

Mr White was Westpac’s chief executive officer from 1977 to 1987 after beginning a remarkable, lifelong career in the banking industry at just 16.

In 1995, he published his autobiography, Cheques and Balances: Memoirs of a Banker .

Mr White’s Deniliquin cousin, John Wilson, said banking was always his ‘‘first love’’.

‘‘Bob was just an ordinary guy from Conargo with no formal education to his name, but he managed to make it to the top of the tree,’’ he said.

‘‘He was down to Earth and it never went to his head — he was always open to meeting people and he could converse with anybody.’’

Mr White was born at Deniliquin Hospital on October 18, 1923, the son of Arthur and Stella White and an older brother to Sheila. He attended Conargo Primary School before gaining his intermediate certificate at Deniliquin High School.

Sadly he was left with a ‘‘gaping hole’’ in his life following the illness and death of his mother before his 14th birthday.

In 1938, Mr White completed his final two years of schooling at the Hay War Memorial High School where it was cemented that a ‘‘life with sheep, dust, flies and drought’’ held little attraction for him.

‘‘Bob’s father was a farmer who owned ground at Conargo, but he always said to him, ‘you’ve got to do something, so get into banking’,’’ Mr Wilson recalled.

In 1940, age 16, Mr White followed his father’s advice and secured a job at the Echuca branch of the Bank of New South Wales. This appointment marked the beginning of what became a 50 year-long career.

Mr White’s initial position at the branch included ensuring the ‘‘writing pads and blotting paper were clean, the inkwells filled and clean, the nibs in the pens were clean and not worn out and the date blocks showed the correct date’’.

After 12 months in Echuca, Mr White was transferred to the Benalla branch where he became a ledger keeper.

His time in the banking world temporarily came to a halt following his enlistment in the army at age 18, in 1942.

Mr White was drafted to the General Transport Company at Fisherman’s Bend, and was in charge of the oil store.

From 1942 to 1947, Mr White was posted in various locations throughout Australia. He slowly progressed his way through the army ranks to become a Warrant Officer Class II.

During his time in Darwin, Mr White met his wife of 40 years, Molly McKinnon.

The pair first met in 1946 as Molly was a member of the Department of Housing, and a relationship flourished a year later when they both returned to Melbourne.

They were married in 1950, and Molly was a ‘‘faithful supporter’’ of Mr White until her death in 1994.

Following Mr White’s discharge from the army in 1947, he returned to banking and was appointed as a ledger keeper at the Bank of New South Wales’ South Yarra branch.

In 1955, Mr and Mrs White departed on a four-week long trip to London on the P&O ship Himalaya for special training — he was posted at the Berkley Square Branch in London.

Accompanying Mr White was Stuart Fowler, who later became Mr White’s successor as the CEO and managing director of Westpac in 1988.

After his post at Berkley Square Branch, Mr White returned to Sydney in 1958 and resumed a position as a staff trainer.

He worked his way through the ranks and was posted at 12 different addresses throughout his career, including in Victoria, NSW, New Zealand and London.

In 1977, Mr White was appointed as the CEO of the Bank of New South Wales. Five years later, he oversaw the largest merger in Australian history between the Bank of New South Wales and the Commercial Bank of Australia, to create Westpac.

Mr White remained Westpac managing director and CEO until 1987, and was a director until his retirement in 1990.

During his 10 years as CEO, Mr White oversaw the deregulation of the banking industry and the introduction of modern computing technology. Mr White also launched Australia’s first EFTPOS terminal in 1984 at Woolworths in Neutral Bay.

In 1996, Mr White married Janice Milne, who inspired him to write his autobiography. Janice passed away in 2013.

A memorial service for Mr White will be held in Sydney this Thursday.

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