Q&A with Helen Coonan new chair of Supervised Investments Australia September 2016


After a long and distinguished career in politics, Helen Coonan has moved into the business world. She recently took up the role of chair of the Supervised Investments Australia board. She tells Industry Moves about what drew her to the role and the skills that she has taken from the cabinet room to the board room. She also gives us a glimpse into her rural upbringing and an inspirational teacher than convinced her that "a little group of country kids could do anything they set their minds to."

What was the deciding factor for you in taking up the role as chair of Supervised Investments Australia?

Since leaving the Senate I have put in place a suite of activities that interest me. Chairing SIAL allows me to leverage skills and experience acquired in the public sector and to help build what is shaping up to be a promising business. I am interested in leveraging skills across my three career areas of interest, law, politics and business.

What do you feel will be the biggest challenge for the firm over the next 12 months?

Obviously SIAL has challenges operating in a competitive market. Our first challenge as a boutique Fund Manager is to establish our brand based on the experience of our investment team, our investment philosophy of "conservative opportunism", aligning the interests of the investment team and investors and our established long term track record. This will take time, we understand this, however we believe we have the investment strategies with proven track records that would complement an investors existing portfolio.

Our two funds: The Supervised Fund (a wholesale equities fund launched in Dec 2007) achieved an annual return to end of June 2016 of 31.93% and a return since inception of 11.29% p.a.; and the Supervised Global Income Fund (a retail bond fund launch in Feb 2009) achieved an annual return to end of June of 3.78% and a return since inception of 9.22% p.a., all returns are net of fees and is a good base to work from.

What skills gained during your political career do you feel have been most useful in your ‘new career’ in the corporate boardroom?

Capacity to understand how the public sector, especially in financial regulation, impacts on business, together with the ability to provide strategic direction and guidance to corporates.

You were the first woman to be appointed to a Treasury portfolio and to join the Coalition leadership team. How did you overcome certain challenges as a female trailblazer?

I have always been confident in my ability to work through challenges. If something doesn’t work I am not afraid to go to Plan B! Resilience and stamina are qualities that help you through tough times.

As a pioneer of the Financial Literacy Foundation, what do you believe are the key elements to ensure Australians from all backgrounds are financially literate?

Financial literacy is a key skill to allow people to organise their lives and to function in the community and the economy more broadly. No one in Australia should be disadvantaged by financial illiteracy. It all starts in schools and people who fall behind must be able to be educated and helped regardless of their age, background or financial circumstances.

Can you give us a little glimpse of what life was like growing up in Wagga?

I had a rural background living in a small community 30km from Wagga. In primary school I rode a horse to school and the teacher lived with my family. It made us all self-reliant and caring of others.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career/life so far?

That school teacher, John Cornish was a huge influence. He convinced a little group of country kids we could achieve anything we set our minds to!

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve received?

A barrister friend of mine once said to me that to succeed you have to be “first among equals”. That meant when working with bright people you have to work a bit harder to distinguish yourself.

Is there a particular cause or charity that you support?

I have many causes I support. I am the Chair of Crown Resorts Foundation and the focus is on indigenous education and community support as well as the arts, especially for disadvantaged children in Western Sydney.

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