Neil Sutton – one half of the JV (Gieldan Capital) team who was involved in bringing the new Cairns Aquarium to life which opened on 19 September 2017
Background by Neil
I was born in Grantham in the UK (somewhat infamous for being the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher!) and grew up in two places; Harrogate, Yorkshire until I was about 4’ 6” then did the rest of my growing-up in Chester, Cheshire. When I say I come from the North of England I often find myself derided – both places aren’t exactly ‘tough’ Northern towns but rather places of beauty, comfortable living and people with plummy accents. Even Hollyoaks is filmed in Chester!
I started my career in Manchester and moved to Sydney in 2002 just in time to watch England win the Rugby World Cup! I’m married, second time lucky and have five kids with the latest edition arriving in September. Our household is never dull and always a lot of fun.
I started my career with Arthur Andersen (then one of the Big ‘5’ accounting and consulting firms) until some questionable off balance sheet activities by one of Andersen’s large US clients, Enron, and equally questionable actions by some of Andersen’s Dallas partners, led to the collapse of Enron and subsequently, Andersen. For those wanting a history lesson, try watching the movie, “The Smartest Guys in the Room”.
During my time at Andersen, I worked in corporate restructuring and later corporate finance. That was between 1995 and 2002, which is when Enron brought things to halt. I was then recruited by HBOS and brought over to Sydney to co-establish HBOS’s Leverage & Acquisition Finance team in 2002, which was a terrific time with a lot of private equity activity.
I left in late 2006 to join Gresham Private Equity. That was a lot of fun and very exciting, acquiring and investing across a lot of diverse businesses. Amongst the various businesses we owned, was high street fashion chains Mimco and Witchery - a great investment for Gresham. My wife was particularly happy – as majority shareholders we were entitled to pretty generous discounts! Gresham decided to wind down its lower mid market investing activities after our main source of capital provided by Wesfarmers evaporated when it bought Coles, and its strategic direction was focused on somewhat larger P/E assets. I left Gresham in 2014 and hopped across the road to 126 Phillip St to join FIIG and establish Gieldan.
Neil, tell us a bit about yourself and your position at FIIG
I’m half FIIG! I run the JV (Gieldan Capital), which is a joint venture between FIIG and MH Carnegie & Co, so I guess my position is a straddle pose.
Apart from all the professional background, I like to enjoy life and my family. I’m a big lover of sport (golf, football) and I support Manchester City – a poor working class football team… I’m a music tragic and I’m continually trying to resist adding to my collection of guitars. I’ve been fortunate to travel a fair amount, I took two gap years to go exploring and we’re always using our annual leave to get away overseas.
How did you kick start your career in the finance industry?
I did an Economics degree, but decided that a post graduate professional qualification was pretty important, so I joined Arthur Andersen as a graduate on a sponsored three year training contract to do my CA. I had actually been very close to signing with British Airways instead to go on their graduate pilot training course, but bizarrely thought a world in finance was more appealing than the tedium of flying long haul jets.
Now, is there anything you would go back and tell yourself?
… try the flying career!
What attracted you to FIIG and the world of fixed income?
The chance to come and build something brand new. Gieldan was only an idea when I came to FIIG and with the support and foresight of my JV partners, it became a reality and an exciting business. We don’t only arrange financing solutions; we’re actually making a difference in building and supporting exciting projects or businesses.
So what is the JV all about and is there anything new that you’re currently working on?
Gieldan’s core team is two people, supported by our JV partners. We are somewhat multi-taskers, being a small team. We source, conduct due diligence, negotiate and structure transactions and, once through credit committee, we syndicate to our investor pool. There is a lot of investor relations work to undertake. Gieldan’s deals are quite personal experiences for our investors and they like it that way. They are at the more sophisticated end of the wealth spectrum and are considered professional investors. Generally they have a lot of direct experiences investing their own capital and so are usually familiar with sectors, structures, etc. We currently have about 45 family offices and ultra high net worth investors who invest into transactions we have arranged. But we are always looking for more!
What do you find most challenging about your role?
Juggling lots of things at the same time and bringing together the needs of borrowers, investors and other stakeholders, as well as meeting their expectations. There is a lot of different stakeholder DNA in the Gieldan universe which is what makes the role interesting and never boring.
We are currently working hard on a new transaction - well, actually I’m currently talking to you - which we launched in August and filled in record time. We are also going through the process of working up a fund which will hopefully attract some larger institutional investors.
Can you share a favourite/interesting day on the job?
Crikey – how long do we have? Probably not any single day per se, but the highlight has been our first trophy transaction, being the Cairns Aquarium project. The project was very satisfying, not only because it has delivered a very satisfying return to our investors, but it’s a very worthwhile project; a piece of social infrastructure - although tickets aren’t free - which has created jobs and will play a part in reef research.
What is also very interesting and fun is the variety of folk Jay and I get to meet. We care for our business but that doesn’t mean we don’t also laugh a lot.
What is the number one thing you hope to achieve at FIIG?
Year on year growth. Simple. It means we’re successful.
Jumping outside of work, best vacation you’ve been to?
Vietnam in 1995. It was very, very different to how it is now. It was only just opening up to tourism and it was as if they were making it up as they went along. “Hanoi International Airport” arrivals terminal was a concrete bunker still riddled with shrapnel scars from the war. The people were the most genuinely wonderful people – they welcomed visitors with incredible warmth and generosity and their smiles were totally infectious.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you or your family
All my kids are more talented than me … nope, that doesn’t count as that isn’t surprising at all. How about this … my father-in-law, who is a journalist, crossed the border into Burma incognito to interview Aung San Suu Kyi just after she was released from house arrest. He risked getting a smacked bottom from the Burmese military junta. He even posed for a photo with her which is now on our sideboard.
Can you recommend us a book or movie?
I’m still recovering from watching Dunkirk. Totally brilliant. That One Direction guy……..!
What is a characteristic you most admire in others?
Honesty and humbleness
If you could invite any four people to a dinner party (dead/alive/fictional/real), who would you invite?
Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, Adolf Hitler and Ronald McDonald … and I’d lock them in a lead-lined room together. Ronald can provide the food.
Last but not least, how do you define success?
Professionally: It is far better now than when you started.
Personally: Navigating Ikea by all the short cuts.