(pictured: Danielle Press)
When Danielle Press resigned from the chief executive spot at Equip Super – on International Women’s Day, a day on which she also started at the fund six years earlier – she was greeted by Martyn Myer as “having a natural warmth and generosity of spirit”. That was on show at the Women in Super lunch in Sydney last week.
After just 90 days as the chief executive of the Myer Family Co, which is a subsidiary of Myer Family Investments and oversees $2.7 billion for more than 120 clients, Press said she was still settling down the team, building their trust and “finding out who’s who in the zoo.” But the family office was “not dissimilar to other organisations”, she said.
The new chief executive role splits the family office’s investments, run by Peter Hodgson, from the business side of operations.
It may be just a coincidence but there is a sense that Australia’s 150-odd family offices, as studied by James Burkitt’s “The Table Club” research and connections company, are increasingly looking to institutionalise their businesses.
For instance, the family office of Andrew Roberts, Multiplex founder, last week announced it had recruited Dean Winterton, the former head of distribution at Perpetual Investments, to work at its funds management business, RF Capital, alongside CIO John Shin, a former Babcock and Brown investment banker.
At Myer, Marcel Kreis was appointed chair of the Myer Family Co early this year after a career as an investment banker at Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch and UBS. Martyn Myer is a director of that company and chair of the investment company.
Press told the Women in Super gathering that leaders needed empowerment. If you did not have that then you have to go and get it, she said. “It’s really hard leading if you don’t have a mandate to lead… You also need to push down as well. You need to trust and empower your teams. You need to understand the weaknesses and risks in the business, which will allow you to take more risks.”
Press said: “At Equip it was the team which created the change. I just ran out in front of them. I think you should have a great HR person who should be a part of the leadership team… Your job as the boss is to support your team, not to smack them [for mistakes] because they are probably already smacking themselves. No-one comes to work intending to screw up,” she said.
Asked about tenures for chief executives, she said she had a strong view that the role should be for between five and seven years. She said that new chief executives tended to change the easiest things first, so if something should have been changed but was not after about four or five years, then it was very difficult for the incumbent to make that change belatedly. A new person could do it more readily.
While all businesses needed to embrace technology and digital disruption, the trend was not new, she said. The changes would be transformational but they did not seem that way at the time.
In one of her last major decisions at Equip this year, Press oversaw the purchase of a stake in robo-advice company Clover. This took about 14 months to bring to fruition, she said.
“When we started thinking about [robo-advice] no-one was talking about it. We looked at our pain points. We wanted to get to a group of our members who were tech savvy but didn’t want to see a planner. So, how do you create an environment which gives personal advice, that’s cost effective and available in real-time? We built a story to put to the board. To do it ourselves would cost [a certain amount], so if we were going to spend it anyway, why not invest in Clover?… Why not make money out of it?”
Other pain points for big super funds, she said, were to do with demand for immediacy by members. “Immediacy of information is coming and it’s coming quickly… It shouldn’t really matter with a long-term investment but you will have to address that.”
Personal investment strategies were being demanded by younger members, but they were difficult to provide in a pooled vehicle.
Asked about diversity at Myer, Press said she was surprised to discover it was a young business with a strong contingent of women. “I thought it would be full of middle-age suited men, but that’s not the case,” she said. “We had a conversation about bias with the board and because I had promoted more men than women, I had to justify that.”
– Greg Bright