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Profile - Grant Hackett

The champion swimmer has turned his talents to giving athletes financial advice.

The champion swimmer has turned his talents to giving athletes financial advice.

It seems incongruous meeting Grant Hackett in a Collins Street cafe. He looks much the same as when he was winning all those long-distance swimming gold medals but he's wearing a smart suit instead of Speedos and talking about tax planning, asset protection and superannuation instead of personal bests.

"Athletes are often stereotyped as one-dimensional," says Hackett, 31, who has worked for Westpac since retiring from swimming after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "But I've always been very interested in finance."

He's traded shares since he was 15 and did half of a commerce-law degree in the early years of his decade-long dominance of the 1500-metre freestyle event (those studies have now morphed into an Executive MBA from Bond University, which Hackett hopes to complete in the next year).

It's clear that banking is a serious second career for him - although he still keeps a foot in the celebrity sports personality door by co-hosting Channel Nine's Wide World of Sports program on Sunday mornings.

Melbourne-based Hackett initially joined Westpac's private banking team but last year the bank asked him to set up a new division focused on the financial needs of athletes, actors, models and other entertainers who often earn enormous amounts for a decade or so but fritter it away because of extravagant lifestyles and poor advice.

The idea had come to him in 2003, when a lunch conversation with a senior Westpac executive turned to Hackett's post-swimming plans and why so many young athletes go broke.

"Often, they have people around them not acting in their best interests," Hackett says, adding that he was fortunate to have a good manager and a conservative father to guide him. "At 21, they're thinking about the here and now they're not thinking about tax planning and asset protection."

Another problem is their short career span. "For an athlete, 40 years of work is compressed into 10 years - I call it dog years," says Hackett, adding that most have a cash shortfall in the first three years after retiring, because their lifestyle is based on contract and endorsement earnings of, say, $500,000 and they drop to perhaps $70,000.

The division, Alpha Sports Entertainment Specialists, opened last October and now has several hundred clients. This month, Hackett was promoted to head of growth segments for Westpac, which includes social sector banking and women's markets, as well as Alpha.

Hackett, it seems, will not need advice from his own division thanks to his parents' emphasis on a good education as a safety net. "It was a luxury to swim," he says. "They said I had to get good marks in order to keep swimming."

When he started earning serious money, after winning the 400-metre and 1500-metre gold medals at the 1997 Pan Pacific championships then his first world 1500-metre title the year after, he invested in super, shares and property.

"I'm massively into super, I always put in the maximum contributions every year," he says. "And I was never a spendthrift, I always lived within my means."

Hackett's swimming career included 1500-metre Olympic gold medals at the 2000 Games in Sydney and the 2004 Games in Athens as well as four world championships. But he rarely swims these days, finding a half-hour run is more effective after all those years of swimming 15 kilometres a day.

"I know I'm never going to have that feeling again of touching the wall first at the Olympics," he says. "But I'm still hungry and driven in my second career."


Biggest break

Making the first national [swimming] team in December 1996 when I was 16, after beating Daniel Kowalski. Success breeds success.

Biggest achievement

Personally, having the twins [Jagger and Charlize, aged 22 months, with wife Candice Alley]. In sport, winning gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Biggest regret

Not taking into consideration lane seven at the 2008 Beijing Olympics [when Tunisian Oussama Mellouli beat Hackett, denying him the chance to win gold in the 1500-metre freestyle event at three consecutive Olympics].

Best investment

Investing at the end of 2008 when the sharemarket was extremely cheap. BHP was under $40. I'm also a director of hedge fund Regal Funds Management, which has done pretty well.

Worst investment

Sharemarket trading when I was a teenager during the tech boom. I did my dough on three or four of them.

Attitude to money

I'm a big believer that you never chase money because you're greedy, you let money chase you. If you enjoy and are passionate about your work, the money will follow.

Personal philosophy

The harder I work the luckier I get.

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