Australia’s $315k-a-week woman: How the daughter of migrants who arrived Down Under with $200 in their pockets became the nation’s highest-paid CEO-By CHARLIE COË
- Macquarie Group CEO Shemara Wikramanayake earned $16.39million in 2021
- Guided Macquarie to profits of $1.3billion in the last three months of the year
- Moved to Australia at age 14 with her family when they had $200 to their names
- She comes from a long line of highly-educated barristers and powerful figures
A daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants who arrived in Australia with just $200 in their pockets now makes $315,000 a week as the nation’s highest-paid CEO.
Macquarie Group chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake earned $16.39million in 2021, the bank announced in its latest report.
Ms Wikramanayake guided Macquarie – dubbed the country’s ‘millionaire factory’ – to profits of $1.3billion in the last three months of the year.
In 2019, the 60-year-old was the first woman to become Australia’s top-earning CEO.
She migrated to Australia in the 1970s with her family at the age of 14 before attending Sydney’s elite $34,000-a-year Ascham School and quickly rising up the ranks as a lawyer and a banker.
Her father Ranji told the Australian Financial Review in 2018 the family had enjoyed a life of privilege growing up in Sri Lanka, but they fell on tough times before finally settling in Australia in 1975.
The Wikramanayakes came from a long line of highly-educated barristers and powerful figures.
Ranji graduated from medical school in 1958 and moved to London with his wife, Amara, for further training in the same year.
The young couple settled down and started a family in England. They had two daughters, Roshana in 1960 and Shemara the following year.
Shemara’s uncle said the entire family once ‘had a very privileged life… we didn’t want for anything,’ but when they arrived in England, they came with very little.
In 1975, Ranji made a call on the future of his family. They would move to Sydney, where he was offered a part time job at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
When they arrived, they had their possessions and $200 cash.
‘We lost everything in 1970 and we started life again,’ Ranji said. ‘And we started everything again when we moved to Sydney.’
The family rented for six months before scrounging together the money to buy their first home in the harbourside suburb of Rose Bay.
From there, they were able to purchase another home in the exclusive Vaucluse overlooking Sydney Harbour.
Shemara’s older sister Roshana went on to become a senior policy lawyer at the NSW Bar Association, while her younger brother works at the Southern Highlands Private Hospital in Bowral as a surgeon.
Nearly half a century after her family’s arrival in Australia, Shemara was officially named the highest paid CEO in Australia – making history as the first female executive to take the title.
Her $18million salary in 2019 was $5million more than the next corporate boss.
She has previously worked for the company in nine cities across the globe, and was first hired in 1987.