Banker Simon Mordant
“I was not a good student. I have a framed school report that says ‘Mordant will not go far in life because he does not play cricket’.” Investment banker Simon Mordant
He has made his name as one of Australia’s most successful investment bankers and one of the most generous donors to the arts. After selling Caliburn – the advisory firm he co-founded almost 15 years ago, Simon Mordant, 56, has spent the past year proving he can do it all again with Luminis Partners.
What is your job?
I am co-chairman of the advisory firm Luminis Partners. It is a full-time executive role and in that capacity, I give advice to leading corporates on strategy and mergers and acquisitions. At Luminis, there are four partners and a team of 25. The business was started 12 months ago and has grown faster than we anticipated. We have a partner in the form of global investment banking advisory firm Evercore Partners, which has representatives in 30 countries.
How did you get started?
My first job was a purveyor of fine teas to Her Majesty the Queen. After unsuccessfully auditioning for the National Youth Theatre, I decided to travel overseas to Australia and New Zealand. I went back to England and qualified as a chartered accountant. I was working at Peat Marwick (now KPMG). I transferred to Sydney from London on a two-year secondment. Four to five months later, I left and went into banking, first of all doing tax structured deals in the early 1980s, working for AGC, which was part of Westpac. The move into the advisory business happened in 1984 when I joined Ord Minnett around the age of 24, and I soon became a partner after I secured the first $1 million advisory fee for the firm. Barclays headhunted me in 1988 for its launch into the Australian investment banking business. It grew to have 500 staff and was the place to go in the early 1990s. I left to start Caliburn from ABN Amro in 1999 with Ron Malek and Peter Hunt.
To be asked by boards and chief executives to help them through challenging issues is a very big privilege and most of my clients are friends whom I have looked after for a long time.
To what do you attribute your success?
I am very focused. I have an enormous amount of energy and think ahead a lot and strategically. There is also a lot of luck involved, and I have had great mentors and colleagues. You develop talent when you are taught by great people. Being a good listener is also important.
What did your parents do?
My mother was a freelance journalist and my father was a chartered accountant, but was also one of the directors of the listed British property developer Hammerson, which had a lot of assets in Australia, as well as running his own accounting practice.
What was the best thing your parents ever taught you?
I did not have a close relationship with my parents because I left home when I was seven and I went to Ludgrove boarding school outside London. When I left school, I came to Australia. The greatest thing they taught me was to respect people. My father cared about the things around him. I also have a brother who lives in Bali and makes jewellery.
What is the deal that you are most proud of?
It was the deal that didn’t happen that I was most proud of. I advised an ASX top 20 company not to do a deal 12 hours before it was to be announced. The CEO took that advice. I had observed something that would have created a lot of risk if the transaction was to proceed. Should the client have bought the business, it would not have thrived under its ownership.
How did you meet your wife, Catriona?
On a blind date at Opera in the Park. We were married six weeks later. She grew up in the theatre and her family have a dance business – they made ballet costumes for the opera.
What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is with my wife to help develop an amazing son, Angus, whom we are extremely proud of, who is now on his own journey, working as a photojournalist in New York.
It is well known that you and Catriona gave $15 million in 2010 for the redevelopment of the Museum of Contemporary Arts at Circular Quay. What is behind your passion for philanthropy?
The passion for the arts is a shared position with my wife. We love the creative process, and like meeting creative people. I have become close friends with artists around the world, and that is what really stimulates us. I came from a very middle-class family and the only thing I inherited from my father was cufflinks. I don’t believe in leaving things to people, and we have a great deal of pleasure helping people achieve their ambitions in the arts. I have seen inheritance destroy so many kids. Our son has been brought up to have his own ambitions on his own journey, but we don’t want him sitting there thinking he is going to win Lotto when we die.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests?
We are both passionate about the arts. We enjoy travel and I enjoy reading. I collect cars and like beautiful things and enjoy spending time with my friends.
At school, was there anything you were particularly good at?
I was not a good student. I have a framed school report that says ‘Mordant will not go far in life because he does not play cricket’. I was under the radar at school.
How did you lose all that weight and why did you do it?
In the space of a year, I halved my body weight. I did it because I wanted a challenge. I moved to Italy for a year – I thought I would lose 20kg and I lost 55kg. Before I went, I got a trainer and had an exercise regime. Work had always been the excuse not to lose the weight. I can get into one leg of my old suits, fell three shoe sizes and had to get new glasses and wedding rings.
What would you tell someone starting out in the industry?
Be passionate and have determination and also perseverance. Have mentors to guide you. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Learn something every day and surround yourself with people with the same passion and determination.
Do you think coming from a wealthy, influential family contributes to a person’s success?
I think there are some very, very successful people who had nothing when they started. Ambition and drive are far more important than heritage. I ran away to Australia to prove to myself I could do something in a country my parents had never been to.
Where to from now?
More of the same: building the business, enjoying the client advice and enjoying what we do in the community as well.