Ziggy Switkowski appointed Crown chair after Coonan resignation

By Noah Taylor Updated
Crown CEO Steve McCann exits the business

Crown Resorts has named Ziggy Switkowski as its new chairman after Helen Coonan resigned following the fallout from the casino operators’ royal commission inquiries.

The Guardian reports that the James Packer-backed group announced that Ziggy Switkowski, current chancellor of RMIT University and non-executive chairman of NBN Co would be appointed to the role.

Switkowski will formally take the reins following approvals, a Crown spokesperson said, with the non-executive director Jane Halton to act as the firm’s interim chair.

Coonan, who became Crown boss in February 2020 after joining as a director in 2011, said it had been a privilege to serve on the company’s board.

The former Howard government minister added that her aim had been to drive a “transformation” of the company after its reputation was left in tatters by the inquiries in NSW, Victoria and WA.

“Crown is firmly on a pathway to rebuild trust and positioned for success over the long term,” Coonan said.

She also welcomed the appointment of Switkowski and said a smooth succession was critical for Crown.

Coonan became the focus of intense scrutiny at the tail end of Victoria’s recent inquiry into whether Crown could retain a licence for its Melbourne operations.

Coonan’s exit from Crown, flagged in early August, comes after Steve McCann replaced Xavier Walsh as chief executive officer.

Walsh, the inquiry revealed, knew Crown Melbourne underpaid millions in Victorian gaming taxes for three years but did nothing about it until the day after the royal commission was announced.

In his closing submissions to the Victorian inquiry, the counsel assisting, Adrian Finanzio, said neither Walsh nor Coonan could be the “credible face of change” that was needed.

“Their mutual failings underscore the cultures still at play at Crown,” Finanzio said.

New chairman could be called upon to face royal commission inquiry

The appointment of Switkowski has led to calls from one of Australia’s most prominent gambling reform advocates for the new boss to front the ongoing royal commission’s.

Tim Costello said Crown’s appointment of Switkowski to steer the group through its regulatory storm was a poor one and they should have instead tapped an executive with a “proven track record of cleaning up a company,” combating money laundering and preventing gambling harm.

Activist shareholder Stephen Mayne is cautiously optimistic about Mr Switkowski’s appointment to chair the scandal-plagued company, so long as he clarifies his dealings with major shareholder James Packer and explains how he will overhaul the company.

He also said it was important to know how the 73 year old, the oldest new chairman of an ASX50 company, will juggle the enormous job of overseeing the reform of Crown while he remains chairman of NBN Co and chancellor of RMIT University.

Mr Mayne said the Victorian royal commissioner Ray Finkelstein should call Mr Switkowski for a one-day hearing before the commissioner rules on Crown’s suitability to run its Melbourne casino in a final report on October 15.

“We need to see Finkelstein versus Switkowski for a day in a public setting before anyone can reach a definitive conclusion about Ziggy’s suitability to be long term independent clean up care of Crown.

“We need to know how the appointment came to pass and precisely his connections with Mr Packer,” he said.

“Ending the Packer era is the most important thing and they’re putting up a new chair who has historically had dealings with the Packers.”

Gambling reform campaigner and federal politician Andrew Wilkie said it “remains to be seen” if Mr Switkowski is the right person for the job.

“Yes, he does have considerable high-level management and governance experience. But his real test will be achieving massive cultural change, where bad news is actively sought and concerns are heard and addressed.”

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