Illustration: John Shakespeare.

Illustration: John Shakespeare.

Usually it is the CEO who walks after a disastrous profit downgrade, but things have always been a little different at QBE.

New broom John Neal and his chairwoman, Belinda Hutchinson, promised all was well at the insurer before Monday's disaster, but he continues to enjoy the harbour views at the company's swish new Australia Square HQ.

Not bad considering Neal has now delivered three profit downgrades in 16 months.

Hutch walks the plank after three years in the big chair but, to be fair, she served 16 years on the board that supported the Frank O'Halloran-era acquisition binge that was blamed for Monday's surprise.

''It is disappointing that in a year when we made excellent progress in improving our current accident year profitability, strengthened our key capital ratios and our balance sheet, successfully launched our operational transformation program and strengthened our executive team, that we continue to be hampered by the past,'' says Neal.

He could need a new line next year if the surprises continue as there are not many O'Halloran-era bodies left.

He was the one who told investors in March: ''I want to apologise to shareholders for missing our original 2012 targets, but I also want to explain how we have now set the business on a solid foundation for future success.''

Investors wearing a 20 per cent loss on their shares as of Monday may have more cause to remember Hutch's speech: ''Today I will talk to you about QBE's approach to delivering value to our shareholders through improved profitability and the outlook for 2013.''

At least she won't have to front up again to explain that one.

Fancy footwork

Sidestep of the year goes to Steven Burns who was anointed QBE's chief number-cruncher-in-waiting, but decided in October to ''retire from full-time executive duties for lifestyle and personal reasons''.

He rejoins the company early next year in several non-executive roles while long-serving CFO Neil Drabsch hangs on for another year until a replacement is found.

Travelling north

Sceptics about ANZ's push for growth in exotic territories to the north might need to reconsider.

The Melbourne-based bank has let it be known that its exploration for new growth markets in unfamiliar lands has turned up the sleeping giant it has been looking for.

Favourable characteristics include a largely English-speaking population, although the cultural challenges remain formidable in this land known as … NSW.

''We are actually quite bullish on larger New South Wales,'' said its product and marketing boss, Matt Boss. ''We expect strong economic growth there.''

He explained to Bloomberg that the bank did not have its ''natural share'' in the NSW market, with its mortgage business having a measly 11 per cent.

''It is a 175-year-old problem,'' he said of ANZ's historical underperformance in the northern state, which seems to predate Ned Kelly, Australian rules and rugby league, but not the steam engine.

A Mite slight

There appears to be an unhappy bunch of little Vegemites fighting it out in the Kraft clone wars.

Dick Smith refused to defend the honour of OzEmite last week but launched a stiff uppercut at what he sees as its illegitimate rival, AussieMite, which is seeking to have Smith's OzEmite trademark scrubbed.

On Monday, AussieMite punched back.

''Why doesn't Dick Smith call his spread Veg(i)mite instead - we would prefer to see him go head-to-head with global food company Kraft,'' says AussieMite chief Elise Ramsey of Vegemite's foreign owner.

She suggests that if Dick wants to support ''real'' Aussie battlers he back AussieMite. Ramsey says her product is a ''premium spread free of additives'', which has a long way to go to be sustainable despite being on the shelves of Coles, Woolworths and independents such as Thomas Dux. ''We may only be a small Australian company, however, we have big plans and a global vision.''

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