The highest-paid CEO in Australia is a woman for the first time ever, as Macquarie Group CEO Shemara Wikramanayake surges to the top

Shemara Wikramanayake is Australia’s highest paid CEO. Image credit: Louie Douvis, SMH
  • Macquarie Group CEO Shemara Wikramanayake is the highest paid CEO in Australia, the first woman ever to top the AFR’s CEO pay survey.
  • Wikramanayake earns more than $18 million dollars, followed by Goodman CEO Gregory Goodman – $12.8 million – and CSL CEO Paul Perreault – $11.7 million.
  • Wikramanayake was also named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.

It’s no surprise Macquarie’s CEO is making bank, but this time it’s different.

Macquarie Group’s CEO Shemara Wikramanayake is the highest-paid chief executive in Australia – becoming the first woman to take the title position – according to The Australian Financial Review’s latest CEO pay survey.

Wikramanayake topped the latest list with a reported pay of more than $18 million, according to the survey, conducted by data company OpenDirector. It ranks the 50 highest-paid CEOs in the country, using figures based on the total pay listed in annual reports.

Wikramanayake was one of four women on the list including Coca-Cola Amatil CEO Alison Watkins ($4.1 million), Mirvac Group CEO Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz ($4.8 million), and Fortescue Metals CEO Elizabeth Gaines ($5 million).

Wikramanayake was announced as managing director and CEO of Macquarie Group back in July 2018, taking over from Nicholas Moore. She made history at the time by becoming Macquarie’s first female CEO.

Starting at the investment bank – known informally as the ‘millionaires’ factory’ – in 1987, Wikramanayake ascended in rank to head up Macquarie’s asset management division in 2008 and eventually CEO. During her time, Wikramanayake has worked in nine cities across six continents and established Macquarie’s corporate advisory offices in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

In 2019, Wikramanayake was named one of Fortune’s ‘Most Powerful Women’ internationally. According to Fortune, Wikramanayake focused on climate change this year, becoming one of a handful of CEOs to be named as a commissioner of the World Bank’s Global Commission on Adaptation. The initiative, which counts Bill Gates and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon among its list of commissioners aims to ramp up action to fight climate change.

Who else made it on the list

Only five CEOs earned over $10 million dollars in the AFR’s CEO pay list. Following Wikramanayake’s more than $18 million pay was Gregory Goodman, CEO of property company Goodman ($12.8 million), biotech company CSL’s CEO Paul Perreault ($11.7 million), Treasury Wine Estate CEO Michael Clarke ($11.4 million) and BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie ($10.5 million).

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce ranked 18th on the list at $6.6 million, a 14.7% decrease from the year before.

Earlier this year the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) revealed the 10 highest-paid CEOs in the ASX200 listed companies in the 2018 financial year. The ACSI list, however, looked at the ‘realised pay’ – the value of cash and equity received – with Qantas boss Alan Joyce topping the list at the time at $23.9 million.