Andrew Pridham: kicking goals in two fields
UniSA alumnus Andrew Pridham has paved a successful career bridging two industries, blending sharp business acumen with a passion for sports. An esteemed investment banker, Andrew is the Chief Executive Officer of Moelis & Company, and has previously held leadership positions at UBS and JPMorgan. Andrew joined the Sydney Swans Board in 2002 and became Chairman in 2013.
As the 2016 Australian Rules Football (AFL) season kicks off at the end of March, we caught up with Andrew to hear more about his journey and explore how his time at UniSA provided a launching pad for his success.
Tell us about your time studying Property Resource Management (PRM) and how this equipped you for your career.
I had a great time undertaking the PRM Course. The fact that the course essentially involved 30 or so students in each year journeying through the course as a group meant that we all became very good friends. It was a very personal and nurturing experience. The curriculum was very progressive/advanced for the times and the lecturers and tutors very dedicated. The course was also very practical and we all enjoyed the numerous field trips. I still catch up and even work with a number of fellow alumni – all of who are now lifelong friends.
The degree has had a profound impact on my career. I quickly discovered that the analytical techniques we had been taught were considerably ahead of what was being practised in business, both in Australia and overseas. Having a jump start on what are now basic methodologies enabled me to progress in business far more quickly than otherwise may have been the case.
You’ve had a successful career as one of Australia’s most eminent investment bankers. Tell us about your journey.
After graduation in 1988 I moved straight to Sydney to work in development and funds management. Ultimately through happenstance I found myself in investment banking, specialising in property. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Australia was in a deep recession and there was turmoil in the property market. Things were very bad. This was particularly evident in the unlisted property sector where very large funds had to freeze redemptions and commercial property was almost impossible to sell. I had a very strong view that the only solution was to list these funds, therein starting the dramatic growth in the Listed Property Trust (now known as REITS) sector. It was right place at the right time for me.
In 1999 I was appointed to the UBS Global Management Board, and relocated to London as the Global Head of Real Estate. I returned to Australia in 2002. After a brief period in retirement (working in the primary school tuckshop) I was coaxed back into investment banking by a number of old clients and I founded my own investment banking boutique. This was very successful and in 2004 I sold the business to JPMorgan, where I became its Head of Investment Banking and ultimately Executive Chairman of Investment Banking. In 2009 I left JPMorgan and established a joint venture with New York Headquartered Investment Bank Moelis & Company.
Your two positions, Chief Executive Officer of Moelis & Company, and Chairman of the Sydney Swans Football Club, are – at least on the surface – quite different. Do the two positions require similar skills or different capabilities?
I often hear people say running a professional football club is no different to running a business. This has not been my experience. I consider both activities to be materially different, requiring different skills and ambitions.
Running an investment banking business is all about hiring and retaining the best possible people, having the correct business model and capital structure and providing services that clients need and value. If you get this right, revenue and profits follow. The aim is to maximise profit on a sustainable basis.
Running a football club has many of the same attributes, namely people, business model and capital. However, that is where the similarity ends. Football is far more about passion and delivering happiness to the millions of people who follow every aspect of the code. Winning games is profit, premierships are special dividends. Member and supporter loyalty is the balance sheet. There are many things we could do as a football club to increase profit. However, if this is at the expense of winning games and making our fans proud we will not pursue it.
I think many hard-nosed business people would find it difficult to run a football club if they apply the same principles and skills, as the motivation of those in the football industry is generally different than in business.
Serving on the board of the Sydney Swans is a coveted role. What do you enjoy most about it?
Being on the Swans board has been a great privilege and I have enjoyed every minute, especially winning the AFL Premierships in 2005 and 2012. At the conclusion of the 2013 season I was appointed as Chairman. This has been an interesting ride. AFL is never short of passion, controversy and is occasionally a lightning rod of important social issues, often forming an important component of the national debate. Nothing can really prepare you for this aspect of the role, excepting perhaps the common sense I learnt in life, including at UniSA.
Do you have any words of advice for today’s graduates?
Follow your instincts, be straightforward, be truthful (especially to yourself) and always do what is right, not just what is easy. Pursue what you are passionate about and give it everything you have.
The employment landscape is far more competitive than when I started. Your first step is to get as good a grades as possible – this will assist getting the attention of employers, getting an interview. However, contacts often open the doors. Don’t be shy. Utilise any networks you have to get a start in your chosen career. Contacts and introductions are still a major way people get employed.
In hindsight if you could go back in time would you change anything?
The way the Swans played in the 2014 AFL Grand Final comes to mind. I have no regrets, I have had a very fortunate career – could have been better could have been worse.
What can the Sydney Swan supporters expect to see from the team this year?
I think we still have a very strong team. If we can keep our best players on the track we will be more than competitive. Our youth could well flourish and complement our most experienced players. Never underestimate the Sydney Swans.