The corporate elite and capitalist imagination in twentieth century Australia

  • Claire Wright (Participant)

Impact: Society impacts

Description of impact

Throughout 2019, I have been researching Australia’s corporate elite – those who sat on multiple large company boards – throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This project is associated with my Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2019-2022).
This research revealed the importance of language for understanding the corporate elite in Australia. The media has long commodified directors’ personal characteristics, attributing the success of multi-million dollar companies to the skills, knowledge, kindness and physical characteristics of a single individual. This ‘hero’ narrative gives corporations a human face, convincing investors that their money is safe. However, it also creates misunderstandings about how large companies work, and the role of executives.
In mid-September, Qantas boss Alan Joyce was revealed as Australia’s highest-paid CEO (earning $24 million in the last financial year). A few days later, Angela Mollard wrote an opinion piece defending Joyce’s pay packet, using language similar to what I had seen being used to describe Australian corporate elites for over 100 years. I wrote a piece for The Conversation examining the history of this narrative, and its importance for understanding Australian business and society. The article was republished by ABC online, with over 30,000 reads in the first 24 hours (today it has been read by just over 40,000 people, with 47 comments).
The impact of this article is through engagement with the public. It has been read widely, by a primarily non-academic audience. The article’s extensive comments section reveals the project’s resonance with readers, and the overwhelming support for its findings.
Impact date2019
Category of impactSociety impacts
Impact levelEngagement