Between 1987 and 1995, he guided the State Bank of NSW through the problem loan experience that afflicted all Australian banks in the late eighties, introduced an innovative form of home lending that changed the Australian market for home loans and he actively pushed and promoted the successful sale of the bank to get its ownership into the private sector.
Appointed CEO of Australian Rugby Union in October 1995, at the start of the professional era, over eight years John transformed the sport in Australia from one run by amateurs to one with genuine professional management. In doing so, he established practices that other top Rugby nations sought to emulate, establishing Australia as an international Rugby power and, for much of his tenure, with the Wallabies clearly the best in the world. He took the ARU from being a financially bereft organisation to one with strong commercial revenue and a sound asset base. During this period he fought for and won the right to host the Rugby World Cup 2003 wholly within Australia and then conducted the immensely successful tournament. As an Australian sporting event in terms of value and world standing it has only been exceeded by the Olympics. While running ARU he established and implemented programs that almost doubled the size of Rugby participation in Australia.
In the three years he has been running Football Federation Australia, having joined in March 2004, John and the management team he created have established the very successful A-League, taken the Socceroos to the World Cup for the first time in over 30 years, and beyond the pool round of the World Cup for the first time ever, and rapidly grown FFA revenue to make the organisation more sustainable. He also identified the need to move Australia into the Asian Football Confederation and personally drove the initiative to success, thereby creating a situation that dramatically improves the competitive and financial opportunities for Australian Football. In achieving these things at FFA, he has been a major contributor to transforming the ethos and image of football in Australia to something far more attractive to the broad community than it was.
There are some common elements exemplified in the experience across banking and sport:
• Strategic thinking and good judgement about what is “the main game”, including identifying transactions that transform the business, and the ability to focus effort and staff on winning there.
• Outstanding feel for consumer markets and consumer response.
John was born in Sydney, Australia in 1951, and was educated at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, and Sydney University. He is a qualified solicitor, as well as a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Bankers. John has held numerous directorships, both sporting and business, as well as being involved in a number of community organisations over the years.
John was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), in the 2004 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for service to Rugby as an administrator, to the financial services sector, and to the community through educational and charitable organisations.
In August 2005, by the decision of the President of the Republic of France, John was awarded the French decoration of Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, in recognition of his assistance in the preparation and organisation of sporting events in Australia and France, and for his contribution to the development of the bilateral relations in the field of sports between Australia and France.
John O’Neill announced that he would not seek reappointment as CEO of FFA when his contract expired early in 2007. He is quoted as saying that his involvement with football over the past three years has been an exhilarating ride and while they have achieved so much, the potential to take the game even further is enormous.
John won the Australia Sports Commission Executive of the Year Award for his work in taking football to new heights in Australia during 2006.
The Premier of New South Wales announced in February 2007 in front of the Queen Mary 2 that John O’Neill is to be employed by the State Government to review what NSW can do to attract more tourism. Mr O’Neill would be employed for three months and would also help with the setting up of a major events corporation – something states like Victoria and South Australia did years ago. This is a real coup of NSW the Premier said. One of the best brains behind some of our biggest sporting successes, the Rugby World Cup and The Socceroos World Cup Matches last year, has agreed to join our efforts to rev up our major events roster.
John is married to Julie and they have three sons, Edward and Hugh (twins), and Harry. John enjoys football, rugby, golf and Australian politics. He is a member of the Royal Sydney Golf Club and Australian Club.