Crown Resorts has appointed a new chair with Helen Coonan exiting the stage in the wake of the punishing Victorian royal commission and NSW gaming inquiry, and amid a royal commission in WA.
The James Packer-backed group on Thursday announced Ms Coonan would on Friday retire from both the board and her role as Crown chair.
She will be replaced by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who is currently working as chancellor of RMIT University and as non-executive chairman of NBN Co.
Dr Switkowski will formally take the reins following regulatory approval, a Crown spokeswoman said, with non-executive director Jane Halton to act as the firm’s interim chair.
Crown’s board members – Ms Halton, Toni Korsanos and Nigel Morrison – said Dr Switkowski’s experience and capabilities were well suited to meeting the company’s challenges.
“We are determined to restore the trust of regulators, investors, employees, customers and the wider community,” they said in a statement.
Ms 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 path way to rebuild trust and positioned for success over the long term,” Ms Coonan said.
She also welcomed the appointment of Dr Switkowski, a former chief executive officer at both Telstra and Optus, and said that a smooth succession was critical for Crown.
“I have always sought to act in the best interests of Crown and endeavoured to consider the impact on our shareholders, customers, and employees,” Ms Coonan said.
Ms 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.
The inquiry, overseen by former Federal Court judge Raymond Finkelstein, revealed that she wrote a letter with her lawyers at Arnold Bloch Leibler on July 2 requesting an “urgent meeting” with Gaming Minister Melissa Horne, stating it is “not in the public interest for Crown to fail”.
Her exit from Crown, flagged last month, comes after Steve McCann replaced Xavier Walsh as chief executive officer.
Mr 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, counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio said neither Mr Walsh nor Ms Coonan could be the “credible face of change” that was needed.
“Their mutual failings underscore the culture still at play at Crown,” Mr Finanzio said.