Brian Delaney reflects on a career with many friendships

Brian Delaney
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Brian Delaney, the soon-to-retire executive director at QIC, has had only four jobs in his career, but he managed to turn his first one, as a professional basketball player, into a central part of his family’s life.

His two daughters – Alex, 25, and Bree, 22, are still playing, while his wife Gail, a former OPAL and WNBL life member, is still coaching, at SCEGGS’ private girls’ school in Sydney. Alex is playing professionally in the WNBL for the Canberra Capitals and Bree is in her final year at Fresno State University, in California, on a basketball scholarship.

As he muses over his plans for retirement, Delaney says that he and Gail have spoken about how good it would be to coach together again and give back to the game that has been good to his family. At times in the past they have been both head coach and assistant coach together, alternately, for different teams. Apart from that, he will be busying himself with a select group of directorships and advisory boards and travelling with Gail and getting more time to reduce both their golf handicaps. Lonsec Holdings last week appointed him as a director to take the positions of founders Jeff Bresnahan and Jason Clarke, who sold their combined interests to Generation Development Group. The deal was finalised on September 14. Delaney is already on the board of the Swartz family office, Trawalla Group, but stepped down this year from the board of Basketball Australia along with another super industry identity, Ian Silk, the chief executive of AustralianSuper and self-confessed “sports nut”. Delaney also wants to continue pursuing his mentoring activities including the program with the Harvard Business School.

Back in the day, at the age of 22, Delaney was wise enough to know that a career in basketball was not going to sustain him for long through his adult life. For one thing, he was spending a bit too much time on the bench, he says. He responded to an ad in the local Brisbane paper and joined the Prudential life insurance and funds management company’s Queensland office. He worked his way up to state marketing manager for corporate markets in Queensland and then regional manager of that arm for NSW and Queensland in 1992, requiring a move to Sydney.

It was at Prudential, one of the mid-size life offices which succumbed to merger pressure in the 1980s and 1990s – such as MLC and Legal & General, followed by Colonial Mutual and National Mutual, the two big ones after AMP at the time – that he became attracted to the not-for-profit part of the burgeoning superannuation industry. The writing was on the wall after industry super was introduced in 1986, through the Wages Accord, and then cemented in 1993 with the Superannuation Guarantee.

Delaney is a people person, as they say. In the industry, he enjoyed the company of those who had a vision of the future where ordinary Australians could save for a decent retirement, confident that their investments were being well looked after by organisations which offered the protection of strong member representation. And they appreciated his genuine interest.

Delaney exudes empathy and has found himself giving a helping hand to many industry folk along the way. Several career moves into what became important jobs were his handywork. He must have the biggest and best electronic version of a Rolodex in the industry and many of the names on the contacts list he can call friends. In a field where a lot of newcomers to super were from diverse backgrounds and where union officials mixed with employers, perhaps for the first time under a common set of goals, Delaney felt at ease.

He had grown up in a stereotypical family of Aussie battlers. His parents, for instance, couldn’t afford to pay university fees in a time before HECS loans and his tertiary education, including the Harvard Business School, came as a mature-age student. While he remained at Prudential for about 14 years, it was really just a pathway to the next two jobs which were the cornerstones of his career – at AMP Capital (then AMP Investments) and QIC.

Delaney had shown his sales skills while at Prudential, enjoying the new offerings which industry funds and other not-for-profits were prepared to look at in the real assets space, which has turned out to be a major reason for their continued outperformance over the retail funds. He talked a relatively small fund, TWU, as an example, investing in one of Australia’s first agribusiness venture designed for institutional investors. It was a big cattle farm in NSW.

At AMP Capital he was able to offer so much more. He was business director of client, product and marketing, from 1998 until 2011, which were the years when big super funds came into their own in the investment space and, largely, political space. John Howard as Prime Minister, from March 1996 to December 2007, led a mostly bipartisan approach to super. AMP broadened its real assets range from an historical fondness for real estate to also grow in infrastructure. Despite its size it was able to occasionally be innovative in fund structures and processes. The launch of the ‘Future Directions’ Australian and global platforms, with which Delaney was actively involved, proved to be a masterstroke which continues to pay dividends today.

But personal milestones, such as passing into a new age bracket, will often play a role in one’s career decisions, such as going into one’s 50s or 60s. Having turned 50, Delaney thought he needed a new challenge and was presented with an opportunity to work with his good friend and fellow Queenslander Damien Frawley at QIC. Going into his 60s – he actually turns 59 in two weeks – he decided it was time to call it a day at the office.

Frawley was the managing director of BlackRock in Australia when he decided to take the top job at QIC in mid-2012. He was drawn by a number of things, apart from spending more time in his home state. Having Australian owners – the Queensland Government – was a big plus, as was the opportunity of re-shaping an organisation into one with a more modern corporate structure and culture, and then making it more global. It wasn’t difficult to entice Delaney to follow him three months later, as executive director of clients, strategy and global markets.

The US was looming large for QIC and the plan in 2017/2018 was for Delaney to move there for a time as US Country Head and develop the investment platform and profile for QIC. It wasn’t until 2018 that he moved, after a short sabbatical in the US the year before, and one of his key tasks was to grow the Infrastructure business to a more globalised platform with the office in NYC , as well as develop the opportunities for growth options for the Real Estate platform which had expanded as part of the takeover of the JV with Forrest City , who were later bought out by Brookfield.

“The opportunity to work in a deep and sophisticated market like the US was really valuable, but it also showed me first-hand how sophisticated the Australian investment management was in comparison and no doubt the compulsory system has been a big catalyst,” Delaney said.

On the current political landscape for super, Delaney is disappointed at some of the attacks on the system. “I believe that compulsion for savings was one of the best pieces of legislation I’ve seen. I believe in it.”

He says that at one stage, prior to the QIC job, he came close to taking up the role of running a big super fund. “I have always thought about the industry in broad terms,” he said. “In my conversations with the funds it was always about their strategic direction and how I could help.”

He says the super system has been tinkered with too much because of the amount of money involved. “But the industry funds came through the Royal Commission a lot stronger than the retail commercial funds,” he says. “There is too much politics being played. What’s broken with the current system that needs dramatic change. Performance? No. Service? No.” The need to continue to ensure Australians retire with dignity is paramount. He also believes that the industry, with urging from the regulator and some politicians, is “overplaying” fees. “People’s perception of fees needs to include value.

Although he won’t be working day to day, he will remain close to the industry via his board roles and will stay close to the many friends, mentors and “great people” he met on the journey.

– G.B.

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