How Shemara Wikramanayake Became Australia's Highest-Paid CEO 3 Years In A Row

With an illustrious career of three decades at Australia’s largest investment bank, Shemara Wikramanayake has not only earned her stripes in financial leadership but has also shattered glass ceilings as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

Oshi Saxena
New Update

Australia is home to many skilled professionals, including executives, who earn high salaries due to their ability to navigate complex business environments. According to the annual ranking by the Australian Financial Review, Shemara Wikramanayake is the highest-paid CEO in Australia for the third year in a row. Wikramanayake is the CEO of Macquarie Group, and she reportedly earned $15.97 million in the 2021–2022 fiscal year. Her earnings have increased by almost 30% in the 2022–2023 fiscal year, crossing the $30 million mark for the first time.


With an illustrious career spanning three decades at Australia’s largest investment bank, Macquarie Group, she has not only earned her stripes in financial leadership but has also shattered glass ceilings as a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry.

From Humble Beginnings To Corporate Titan

Shemara Wikramanayake's journey began with humble roots, but her dreams were anything but modest. Born into a prominent Sri Lankan family, she inherited a legacy of excellence and determination. From an early age, Wikramanayake exhibited an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a relentless drive to make a difference in the world.

Wikramanayake's journey to the zenith of the finance world began in Sydney in 1987. Transitioning from law to investment banking, she joined Macquarie Capital and embarked on a remarkable trajectory across six countries and various business lines.  With each passing year, she scaled new heights, assuming leadership roles and spearheading transformative initiatives that propelled Macquarie Group to unprecedented success. Her tenure as the head of Macquarie Asset Management, where she managed a team of 1,600 across 24 markets, exemplifies her adept leadership skills

Trailblazing Achievements

As the CEO of Macquarie Group since 2018, Shemara Wikramanayake has etched her name in corporate history. She stands as the first woman to lead Macquarie Group, the first Asian-Australian woman to helm an ASX 200 company, and the first woman to clinch the top spot on reported earnings tables for consecutive years. Despite earning less than her predecessors, her influence and impact on the global financial arena remain unparalleled.


Under Shemara's stewardship, Macquarie Group has witnessed unprecedented growth and innovation. Earnings surged by 58% during her tenure as CEO, reaching A$4.7 billion. Notably, in 2022, the company reported record profits of US$3.5 billion, marking a remarkable 56% increase from the previous year. Macquarie's expansion encompasses diverse business lines across six continents, including asset management, retail banking, renewables development, and capital raising, consolidating its position as a global financial powerhouse.

The bedrock of Shemara's success lies in her confidence and resilience, virtues instilled during her formative years amidst financial hardships and constant relocation.

In her own words, "You shouldn't restrict yourself to the box that you come in." This mantra encapsulates Shemara's approach to leadership, characterized by fearlessness and a willingness to challenge conventions.

Embracing challenges with fortitude, she defied limitations and shone as an inspiration for aspiring leaders, particularly women, in the finance sector.

Pioneering Gender Equality In The Boardroom

In 2019, Wikramanayake etched her name in Australian business history by becoming the first woman to clinch the title of Australia’s highest-paid CEO. With a resounding salary of A$18 million, she shattered the glass ceiling and paved the way for women in boardrooms across the nation. Her ascent to the helm of Macquarie Group in July 2018 marked not only a personal triumph but a victory for gender equality in the corporate sphere.


Under her leadership, Macquarie has surpassed gender diversity targets, with parity at the board level and increased representation of women across all organizational tiers. Embracing ethnic diversity, Shemara champions initiatives to foster a culture of inclusivity and belonging, recognizing the invaluable contributions of individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Championing Sustainability And Climate Action

Shemara Wikramanayake's leadership extends beyond financial prowess to championing sustainability and climate action. As a commissioner of the World Bank-led Global Commission on Adaptation and the founding CEO of the UN Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, she spearheads initiatives to mobilize private sector investments towards climate-resilient solutions. At COP27 in Egypt, her advocacy for accessible climate finance and renewable energy garnered global acclaim.

Demonstrating Macquarie's commitment to sustainability, Shemara has steered the company towards renewable energy investments, divesting from hydrocarbons and financing solar, offshore wind, and hydrogen projects. Noteworthy endeavours include raising funds for renewable investment and partnering with the UN's Green Climate Fund to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

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