Q&A

Banker Si­mon Mor­dant

The Australian - The Deal - - News - In­ter­view by: Brid­get Carter Photograph by: Hol­lie Adams

“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.

Why bank­ing/ad­vi­sory?

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.

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