Smedley spent much of his early career in the resources industry. He spent over 30 years working for Shell in Australia and around the world, gaining experience in energy and resource industries. He rose through the ranks to hold a number of senior positions including Executive Director of Downstream Oil and Chemicals from 1990 to 1992 and Executive Director of Coal and Metals for Shell Australia Limited from 1986 to 1990 and Area Co-ordinator Central America, Caribbean and South America for Shell International from 1982 to 1986. At Shell Smedley gained a reputation as a formidable negotiator and as a manager who attracted strong loyalty from his staff. He was seen as a prospective Chief Executive Officer of Shell Australia by the group's Australian leadership at the time.
From 1992 to 2000 he was Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Colonial Group Limited. Under Smedley’s leadership the company was transformed from a mediocre life insurance company into a broad-based financial services giant with strong businesses in Asia and Europe as well as Australia. During this period Colonial was demutualised and listed on the ASX, and the company grew profits and revenue significantly, reducing costs and increasing funds under management from $1 billion in 1993 to $37 billion in 2000.
In addition to a major restructure of the business and the overhaul of its systems, Smedley successfully pursued series of major acquisitions including the acquisition of the State Bank of New South Wales and the Australian Australasian operations of global fund managers Prudential and Legal & General. His succession of acquisitions at Colonial and their integration, amounting to 17 acquisitions in 8 years, earnt Smedley the nickname in corporate Australia of "Pacman" in reference to the voraciously hungry 1980’s video game character. Smedley also focussed the business toward the rapidly growing Asian financial services markets undertaking acquisitions and joint ventures in China, Vietnam and Malaysia including the Jardine Pacific Holdings life insurance business in Hong Kong. Colonial became the first Australian insurer to win an insurance licence in China.
The ability of Smedley and his management team to achieve demanding, publicly declared objectives and consistently and substantially outperform them was widely acknowledged by business commentators. Colonial was ultimately acquired by CBA in 2000 for $8.5 billion or approximately $8.25 per share. This represented a large premium to Colonial’s listing price of $2.60 only two and a half years earlier, and the price astounded many in the market.
From 2000 to 2002 he was Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Mayne Nickless. Originally a transport business, Mayne diversified into health, pharmaceuticals and other industries. While at Mayne, and against long-standing practice in Australian hospitals, Smedley undertook a ruthless campaign of cost cutting which included the centralisation of the group's hospital management. This resulted in an alienation of the hospitals' primary customers, their specialist doctors, who then referred their patients to other health care providers. The resultant heavy loss of income was a significant factor in Mayne's failure as a hospital provider.
He had a long association with CARE Australia, establishing its Business Council and serving as its Chairman. He subsequently joined the Care Australia Board in 2000 and retired as its Chairman in November 2009.
Smedley also served as a Director with the Australian Mining Industry Council, the Australian Mining Industrial Research Association, Lloyds Register of Shipping, the Alumina Development Council, the Life Insurance Federation of Australia, and the Australian Banker's Association. He is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Smedley has been involved in not-for-profit organizations in the area of mental health. He is a member of the board of the Haven Foundation, an organization providing housing for the mentally ill, and is chair of the board of Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, an organization working in youth-oriented preventative psychiatry.
Smedley was born on 2 January 1943 in Perth, Western Australia where he completed his secondary education at the Christian Brothers' Aquinas College.
He attended the Royal Military College for two years.
He studied for a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Western Australia, later completing an MBA at the University of Melbourne.Director and Chairman of Onesteel, appointed October 2000
Chairman of Spotless Group Limited, appointed Director 2006
Chairman of the Colonial Foundation
Chairman of Orygen Youth Mental Health Research
Director of The Haven Foundation
Chairman State Bank of New South Wales
Deputy Chairman of Newcrest Mining Limited
Director Austen & Butta Limited
Director Australian Mining Industry Council
Director Australian Mining Industrial Research Association
Director Lloyds Register of Shipping
Director Alumina Development Council
Director Life Insurance Federation of Australia
Director Australian Bankers Association
Director The Haven Foundation
Director Orygen Youth Health Research Centre
Former Chairman CARE Australia
Former Director CARE International
Business Council of the National Gallery of Victoria
President's Council of the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Advisory Council of CARE Australia
Former Councillor for the Business Council of Australia
Former Director Business/Higher Education Roundtable
Former Director Christian Brothers Foundation for Charitable Works