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Arab Bank CEO: Cashing in on Practical Wisdom

Joseph RizkThe Managing Director of Arab Bank Australia Limited, Mr Joseph Rizk, emphasised the great advantages that racial and cultural diversity offered Australia when he spoke at the College on 28 March, 2012.

“Diversity offers enormous benefits,” he said. “There may be a few hiccups along the way, but diversity gives a phenomenal amount of strength.”

“Within Arab Bank Australia we have Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians, Anglo Saxons, Lebanese, South Africans – in all we have people from 31 different nationalities working for us. You have to see it to appreciate it – the willingness of people to help each other. You have got to work in a team environment.”

Before his present appointment in 2010, Mr Rizk had more than 30 years of corporate, commercial and international banking and finance experience, including several senior executive positions with National Australia Bank. He said when he was first setting out, after studying chemistry at university and finding there was not much employment for industrial chemists, he took a job with a bank because he was told the work would be easy. However he found himself becoming increasingly passionate about the work.

“I thought I would work in a bank for 12 months, but then I started to enjoy the job. Try to do the things you enjoy. If you are not enjoying what you are doing then look at your options.”

Mr Rizk said it was important for a bank or corporation to survive, but it was more important that it “gives back to the community”.

“It’s not just about wealth,” he said, “but about helping the people and community around you.”

Noting the financial upheavals around the world in recent times, he said they were not about to stop. “They are going to continue,” he said, “and we will need to deal with change, as every one of us has to deal with change. I have never met anyone who has set a plan when they were starting out, and has not had it change it along the way.”

Over recent years, because many of the biggest banks in the world were on the verge of collapsing, governments stepped in to save them and have now started to regulate the banks again. Government influence through regulators was enormous, he said.

“They are trying to take out the peaks and troughs in the economic cycle. That is the aim of Basil 3. It is trying to achieve steady growth. But how do you control greed? Greed is seen as a God by a lot of people. When you have a long period of growth, you see greed growing up. People think things are not going to change, but they do. So, again, it is about adapting to change.”

Mr Rizk said if he had his time again, he would try more to “leverage off people” who were much more senior than himself and try to maximise opportunities to get a great education.

Following the previous week’s talk by the Deputy Chancellor of UNSW, Ms Jillian Segal AM, on promoting gender equality in the workplace, one of the residents asked Mr Rizk for his view of gender diversity.

“Any corporation that thinks you should be dominated by males at the executive level is not a corporation that is forward thinking,” he said. “There are many talented women out there, but change has been slow.”

Asked about balancing career with family life, Mr Rizk warned residents that they would have to be prepared to make sacrifices during their careers.

“At the NAB when I was asked if I would consider going overseas, I said no because I had a family,” he said. “Your family is the most important thing. You have got to make sacrifices. I gave up playing golf on Saturdays so I could spend more time with the family.”

“In our social structure, the most important thing is the family unit. Families cannot rely on schools alone to teach things like personal discipline and values. If we are relying on the government and the courts to do it, then the results are not always favourable.”

(Photos from the event are available here)