Date posted: 1/02/2017 3 min read

Simon Mordant on giving dollars and losing pounds

Investment banker Simon Mordant AM FCA explains why he donated A$15m to the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, and how he shed 55kg in a year

In brief

  • Advisors need to be good listeners. Too often, advisors want to give their opinion without actually understanding the problem or opportunity
  • In senior business roles, it’s easy to slip into an unhealthy lifestyle
  • Every society needs a healthy arts sector - if you want to live in a creative and vibrant community, the arts are vital

Photography by Pat Scala

One of my teachers said I was a no-hoper. I have a framed school report on my desk that says “Mordant will not go far in life because he does not play cricket”. I think that would have broken many weaker people but, in fact, it just drove me to want to excel.

Becoming a chartered accountant was probably in my blood. My father was an FCA, and so was my grandfather. I started out with Peat Marwick (now KPMG) in the UK and secured a transfer to Australia. I worked on the privatisation of Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Press and, before long, I made up my mind to focus my career in corporate advisory and – after a short period working on leveraged leases and preference shares at AGC – moved to Ord Minnett.

My advice to young people starting out is to ask lots of questions. In my twenties, as a new migrant, I knew very little about corporate Australia, so I contacted senior business leaders in Australia and they were extraordinarily generous with their time. At Ord Minnett I had a wonderful boss who would take me to meetings, ask me to take notes, and then afterwards he told me I could ask him anything I wanted. I learnt a huge amount in a short space of time. 

My advice to young people starting out is to ask lots of questions.
Simon Mordant AM FCA

Above all, advisors need to be good listeners. Too often, advisors want to give their opinion without actually understanding the problem or opportunity. My role involves advising on complex issues in the boardrooms of some of the biggest companies in Australia. To start with, that means listening. A lot. Then looking at alternatives, evaluating each of these, and arriving at a solution that delivers the most shareholder value within a framework where the risks are evaluated. Sometimes the best advice we’ve given is not to do a transaction at all. We’re focused on long-term relationships, not short-term gain.  

Reversing an unhealthy lifestyle

In senior business roles, it’s easy to slip into an unhealthy lifestyle. As my career progressed, I became busier and busier and I gained more and more weight. I didn’t exercise and I didn’t watch what I ate. The bigger I got, the harder I found it to get around. I’d take a taxi three blocks to go to a meeting rather than walk. I was too big to buy clothes in regular shops. I was uncomfortable in myself but I was avoiding dealing with it. 

To lose weight, I had to reprogramme my brain. During a period of “gardening leave” I spent almost a year in Italy and set myself the challenge to lose 20kg during that time. I started to think about everything I put into my mouth. I pretty much cut carbohydrates out of my diet completely. I stopped drinking wine. I got a personal trainer before I left for Italy, and started going to the gym. After ten weeks I hadn’t lost any weight and almost gave up, but then the weight started to come off.

Weight loss has been very expensive but also a great investment. I’ve probably added 20 years to my life expectancy.
Simon Mordant AM FCA

Weight loss does come at a price. Once I had lost 20kg I had to throw out my wardrobe of clothes and buy new ones. Absolutely everything. Then I kept going and lost another 20kg, so that required another new wardrobe. I was a medium size by then. Then I lost another 15kg, threw out the medium clothes, and now I’m buying small size clothes in the shops! I even dropped three shoe sizes, had to have my wedding band cut down, and had to get new glasses as my face had changed shape. Weight loss has been very expensive but also a great investment. I’ve probably added 20 years to my life expectancy.

Patron to the arts

Every society needs a healthy arts sector. If you want to live in a creative and vibrant community, the arts are vital. I was surprised when I came to Sydney in the early 1980s that there was no institution focused on contemporary art. I remember in the late 1980s walking through Circular Quay in Sydney and being elated to discover a group of people were committed to building the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). To get established, they raised A$1,000 from 1,000 people, including my wife and me. Later, I joined the board of the foundation and our involvement grew from there.  

As visitor numbers grew, the MCA was bursting at the seams. The answer was to redevelop the museum, but that meant capital raising to the tune of A$53m. My wife and I were in a position to help financially, so we did. We also encouraged others to follow suit, and the campaign succeeded. Since the MCA re-opened in 2012, attendances have doubled and in 2016 we reached close to 1.2 million visitors. It’s been wonderful to see the impact the MCA has had on the community.

Having a successful professional life allows my wife and me to do more for the community. We have a good life ourselves and we want to make a difference while we’re on the planet in areas that interest us.

Simon Mordant was in conversation with Acuity publisher Andy McLean.

Fact file-Simon Mordant AM FCA

  • Current role
    Co-chairman of Luminis Partners, Sydney, Australia.
  • Track record
    Investment banking and business advisory.
  • Governance positions

    Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art

    Venice Biennale

    New York’s Museum of Modern Art

    London’s Tate Modern

    Rome’s American Academy

    The Australian Broadcasting Corporation.