THE Hunter’s business community is in mourning after the shock passing of Michael Slater.
Mr Slater, a married father of two sons, is understood to have died on Tuesday morning after a short illness.
He had recently stepped down from his roles as chairman of the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation and Regional Development Australia Hunter.
Newcastle Permanent chief executive officer Terry Millett said his staff were “devastated”.
“Mike was Novocastrian to his bootstraps,” Mr Millett said.
“He was so proud of the community and wanted so much to make a contribution.
“He was a person who cared – a lot – and was very hard working and diligent.
“He could be stubborn and hard to move on some things, but you knew his heart was in a great spot.
“Mike was also a great dad, he used to talk to me about his family and how much he cared about them.”
Mr Slater, 71, was the longest serving chairman of Newcastle Permanent Building Society, a role he held for almost 10 years until he stepped down in October 2016.
He was also involved with the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation from its inception to March 2017.
He was still on the board of directors for both the building society and the foundation when he died.
“Mike’s been part of the organisation as a director for more than 15 years and made an incredible contribution, so we are devastated,” Mr Millett said.
“When he came to the organisation it was less than one third of its current size, now it’s an $11 billion organisation. We would not have been in the position to achieve what we achieved without Mike.
“He’s going to be missed for his wisdom, good humour and wise counsel.
“We’re now thinking ‘Wow, we're not going to have Mike’.
“The grieving process will be intense and long. He was so well loved.”
Mr Millett said he last saw Mr Slater in May and understood his illness had been “quick and severe”.
“The fact he pushed on and was still an active board member tells you about commitment of the guy.”
Newcastle Permanent chair Jeff Eather said he admired Mr Slater’s “knowledge, passion and tenacity in the boardroom as well as when carrying out his many other roles in community organisations”.
“Mike demonstrated an unsurpassed passion for continuous improvement, robust governance and corporate philanthropy,” Mr Eather said.
“His stewardship of the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation over the past 10 years further demonstrated his passion for supporting the community and his commitment to making a significant difference to less fortunate people in our community as he helped the foundation to become what we believe is the largest of its kind in regional Australia.
“Mike’s contribution to Newcastle Permanent can’t be overstated, and we know his loss will come as a heavy loss to the Hunter and broader NSW business and not-for-profit communities.”
Mr Slater told the Herald last year business leaders should not fail to take on a challenge.
“I believe all business leaders, whether they operate a small enterprise or govern a large organisation, have an obligation to represent the interests of the community and give back to it in any capacity they can,” Mr Slater said.
RDA Hunter acting chair John Turner said Mr Slater had been the organisation’s “driving force” throughout his tenure, from January 2015 to April 2017.
“His vision was very good for RDA because he knew the Hunter so well,” Mr Turner said.
“The implication was he would be the first invited to anything going, because he knew how the Hunter was ticking. He could pinpoint areas where we could be looking to put our attention to.
“Where his leadership came in was in relation to programs like the STEM program, which was looking at developing technology based businesses for employment purposes, and the ME program for getting young kids involved.”
Mr Turner said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull invited Mr Slater to launch the STEM program in Parliament House “as an example of what he would like to see with STEM programs rolled out across Australia”.
“Without his drive we would not have achieved the runs on board we got for those programs,” Mr Turner said.
“He will be remembered as a leader within the Hunter community.
“He influenced many spheres and organisations and was respected by all of the bodies he touched.
“He was developing RDA Hunter into one of the leading RDAs in Australia.”
Mr Turner said Mr Slater was “very friendly, gregarious and the proverbial life of the party”.
He said he last saw Mr Slater about three months ago, when they discussed the job handover.
Mr Turner said Mr Slater was planning to travel to Europe.
“He was frail but in good spirits and looking forward to the trip,” he said.
“We’re all shocked to hear of his passing – he’ll certainly be missed in Newcastle, there’s no question of that.”
Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes expressed the chamber’s sympathies to Mr Slater’s family, friends and colleagues.
“He made a significant contribution to the region over a long period of time,” Mr Slater said.
“I personally met Michael back in the 80’s and he was a very impressive man then who kept on growing and kept on giving.
“It is always a tragedy when we lose a significant business person such as Michael who gave a significant contribution to this region.”
Mr Slater, an accountant, graduated from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor Of Commerce in 1972 and Master Of Business Administration in 1985.
Mr Slater was named last year as the Hunter Business Chamber’s Business Leader of the Year.
He also took home the NSW Business Chamber’s Business Leader of the Year 2016.
Mr Slater was a member of Surf Life Saving Australia for 50 years and a patron of the Hunter, North Coast and Mid North Coast branches.
He was also on the Westpac Rescue Helicopter board of directors for more than 19 years.