Firm’s success down to vision of UQ dream team

14 Sep 2010
By the time UQ agricultural science and MBA graduate Mark Sowerby started his own private equity firm in 2006, the then 35-year old had worked on five continents in some of the busiest cities in the world. His work had taken him to places as diverse as Hong Kong, Nicaragua, China, Bangladesh, India, Mexico and parts of the US. However, when it came time to put together his management team, he found he needed to look no further than his alma mater to find the best candidates. Mark is the founder and director of Blue Sky Funds Management, which in four years has grown to a family of four companies with 18 staff, offices in Brisbane and Adelaide, and $160million worth of funds under its management. The firm's success, according to Mark, has come down to good ideas and being able to attract "some of the better intellectual property to come out of UQ" from the early 90s, including commerce law graduate Rob Brooks, with whom he founded the firm. While Mark was studying his undergraduate agricultural science degree at UQ and living at Emmanuel College, he had a healthy rivalry with John's College residents Tim Wilson, a commerce/law student, and David Hobart who was studying economics. More than a decade later, Tim is managing director (MD) of private equity and David Hobart is MD of Blue Sky Apeiron, after bringing his award-winning hedge fund Apeiron Global Macro Fund over to Blue Sky earlier this year. Far from being a simple case of old school ties, Mark says Tim and David had the exact expertise required for the company. "Tim has worked around the world in private equity and investment banking and is probably one of the best networked guys in Brisbane. He's a popular investment banker, which is an oxymoron if ever I heard one," he quipped. "David Hobart came along just as we were keen to branch out into a hedge fund, and he had just won the 2009 (Alternative Investment Management Association Australia) best emerging manager award." Other members of the team who hail from UQ include economics and law graduate and university medallist Alex McNab who is strategy director of private equity, and commerce/law/finance graduate David Laverty who is managing director of the company's private real estate arm. Team members' CVs also list some of the world's most prestigious business schools including London Business School, Harvard Business School and INSEAD in France. "In our space, the premium is not on capital but on ideas, so we have sought to align ourselves with some of the leading thinkers in the field," he said. Mark says the diversity of the team's skills base and their shared global vision has been an essential component to the company's growth. "To our knowledge, we're the first firm in Australia that's operating across the four classes of alternative assets: private equity, infrastructure, property and hedge funds," he said. "We have good ideas and we feel it's a waste not to pursue them. As a result we have a water fund that we run from Adelaide, a private equity fund, a residential property fund and now the hedge fund." Mark said the global financial crisis had been "a really good thing" for the company, which was a finalist in the 2010 Telstra Queensland Business Awards in the innovation category. "People have realised that just investing in shares and property on their own is not necessarily the best thing to do and now clients are demanding that their financial advisers look into alternative assets." "Our best performing funds are businesses that have a product or service that is completely innovative and has substantial barriers to entry. For example, Viking Rentals who deliver and service portable toilets to building sites or Lenard's, which is only company in the world to successfully deliver a meat distribution business through retail." Media: Cathy Stacey (3346 8068)