Profile Garry Weaven

Growing super for workers is this man's proudest achievement.

Growing super for workers is this man's proudest achievement.

Even in "semi-retirement", Garry Weaven cannot resist a plug for Australia's $1.5 trillion in superannuation savings, which he helped kick-off in the 1980s as the assistant secretary of the ACTU.

"In international competitive terms, it's close to best practise," says Weaven, 59, adding that the pool will swell to at least $4 trillion by 2020. "It's an investment powerhouse for the nation."

But he is not happy that financial planners and accountants "almost never" recommend industry funds.

"Because we have this misnomer called financial planning, which is actually commission selling, most people get herded into the more expensive funds, which are often not the best funds," says Weaven, who forged a post-union career as the founder of Industry Fund Services, which provides funds management, planning, banking and legal support to many of Australia's biggest industry funds.

"It's hard for us because people say we're talking our own book - and we are - but the numbers are there, over three, five, seven years. This is a really significant social and economic problem for this country."

These days Weaven has no executive duties, having decided to step back from day-to-day management at the start of last year, when IFS merged with two other companies in the group, Industry Funds Management and Members Equity Bank. He retains a role as non-executive chair of IFM, which has $18 billion in funds under management, and he is also a director of Members Equity Bank and IFM's 100 per cent-owned investment, Pacific Hydro.

"I've never really been that interested in the actual role of management," Weaven says. "I'm more interested in growing things than managing them."

Was it hard to step back from IFS? "In a way, yeah. And sometimes it's easier to walk entirely away rather than be hanging around and seeing things done differently to how you'd do them.

"But I don't think, for most people, it's good to have a single retirement date. It's better to have a phase-out plan. I'm enjoying semi-retirement or whatever you want to call it."

At least Weaven doesn't need to worry about not having enough super. He began contributing in the 1970s, because the first union he worked for after completing an economics degree at Melbourne's LaTrobe University happened to have a scheme.

Weaven went on to become the Victorian state secretary of the Municipal Officers Association, aged 27, and stepped straight into a bunfight over super. Senior officers, after years of contributions, would retire with super of only 1.1 times their final salary because of poor investment decisions, so Weaven spent much of the 1970s campaigning for a better scheme for local government workers.

In 1981, after he joined the ACTU, the campaign spread to other industries. "If you look at super in the early 1980s, it had very selective coverage," Weaven says, noting that only about 20 per cent of female workers and only 24 per cent of blue-collar workers were covered. "And those who were covered never got much benefit because it required long service with one employer. It was massively tax-beneficial but most people were locked out."

Weaven became ACTU assistant secretary to Bill Kelty in 1986 but left in 1990 to work as a consultant to Westpac, before setting up IFS in 1994.

"Nineteen years is a fair while in the union movement," he says. "They were great days, the ACTU was at its peak. But it was very wearing, there was a lot of conflict - really, I was just getting a bit frazzled with it all."

THE BIG QUESTIONS

Biggest break Getting the chance to be associated with the industry super fund campaign from day one. Just look at what it's become.

Biggest achievement Putting Industry Fund Services together and helping to grow it. That was something I never thought I'd do, as a working-class kid from Northcote with an interest in the Labor movement.

Best investment I don't want to take full credit for this but the initial investment in Pacific Hydro [by Industry Funds Management] was an excellent decision.

Worst investment Early on we invested in a small listed company called Greenchip, which was involved in Sydney's cross-city tunnel. It ended up being a complete write-off. IFM's infrastructure track record is fantastic but the secret is diversification, so you can handle a write-off.

Attitude to money It's not the most important thing, although a lot of people behave as if it is.

Personal philosophy I like to be associated with growth and success. If you can put a very strong social benefit label on that growth and success, you're in a really great space.


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