Shemara Wikramanayake: Macquarie Group's first-ever female CEO


The new CEO of investment giant Macquarie Group, Shemara Wikramanayake, is breaking the corporate glass ceiling.

The daughter of a Sri Lankan migrant has made history by becoming the first-ever female CEO of Macquarie Group, in a move welcomed by multicultural groups.

Shemara Wikramanayake was on Thursday appointed to lead the investment giant after heading the company’s asset management arm for more than a decade.

"I look forward to working with the Board, management and our entire Macquarie team to build on Nicholas' remarkable legacy for the benefit of all our stakeholders," she said in a statement.

Born to a Sri Lankan father, Ms Wikramanayake attended school in London, before her family moved to Sydney.

She attended Sydney’s prestigious Ascham girl’s school, then went on to study commerce and law at the University of New South Wales.

Shemara Wikramanayake.
Shemara Wikramanayake.

Ms Wikramanayake, 56, has worked at Macquarie since 1987. She has long been considered a natural successor to current chief executive Nicholas Moore, who will hand over the top job in November.

Mr Moore said he had worked with Ms Wikramanayake for more than 30 years and was confident he was leaving the company "in a strong position and in safe hands". Macquarie Group posted a record $2.56 billion in annual profit between 2017-2018. 

2016 Macquarie Group Operational Briefing: Shemara Wikramanayake
2016 Macquarie Group Operational Briefing: Shemara Wikramanayake

For Macquarie Group, Ms Wikramanayake has worked in six countries across several business lines.

The announcement was made prior to Macquarie's annual general meeting on Thursday.

Chairperson of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, Mary Patetsis, told SBS News the appointment was a recognition of the calibre of professional women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

"FECCA believes that highly skilled people from diverse backgrounds with high levels of corporate and professional experience should be appointed at all levels, including at the CEO and as Non-Executive Directors," Ms Patetsos said. 

Macquarie CEO Shemara Wikramanayake is welcomed by her predecessor
Shemara Wikramanayake is congratulated by predecessor Nicholas Moore on becoming Macquarie Group CEO.

The former head of Investa Property Group and the first Asian-Australian woman to head an ASX 200 listed company, Ming Long told SBS News Ms Wikramanayake’s appointment was unsurprising.

“Shemara is well known in the corporate community for her capability and leadership over a long period of time. I am unsurprised the board recognized her talent and selected her to lead Macquarie,” Ms Long said.

Macquarie has maintained its outlook for 2019 fiscal year earnings to be in line with the previous year.

Ms Wikramanayake has generally kept a low public-profile, however after featuring on the cover of a business magazine in 2016, she said she was glad to be able to be a role model to younger women.

“They found it very uplifting to see a picture of a non-white female on the magazine cover. It helps kids to think, ‘I could do that job,” she told the Financial Times. 

- Additional reporting: AAP

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