Profile: Connie Mckeage – The right to lead

OneVue chief executive Connie Mckeage

22-Aug-2014

By Krystine Lumanta

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OneVue was officially listed on the Australian Securities Exchange on 25 July, after announcing an $8 million capital raising in November 2013. Several acquisitions later and following an expansion of its service proposition, the company now regards itself as a fund services specialist and wholesale provider of self-managed super fund (SMSF), retail and digital member-based solutions.

In a nutshell, chief executive Connie Mckeage tells financialobserver how she feels post-initial public offering (IPO): “Focused on the future. Centred and calm. Sticking to our strategy.”

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t extremely demanding on the business.

“Anyone who’s been through an IPO process knows that it’s very challenging – you’re trying to continue to push the business forward at a time where the senior management is intensely focused on a number of items, whether it’s the prospectus or managing third-party advisers or dealing with potential shareholders,” Mckeage explains.

“We were also settling the Computershare Fund Services transaction and we bought two other businesses in between, so we took on quite a bit. With the IPO now behind us, the main issue is about what we’re doing next.”

You can always count on an open response from Mckeage, spoken in a Canadian accent to boot.

Delving a little deeper into her experiences in financial services, she says the challenge of being a woman in the industry hasn’t been an issue for her.

“I think I have the right to lead and I never assumed otherwise. Because of that, I think other people have received me,” she shares.

“I’ve spoken to the women at OneVue about it and in the work environment we have to believe we have the right to be where we are.”

Last September, OneVue completed the purchase of the unit registry arm of Computershare Fund Services and acquired MAP Funds Management in February. In May, the company secured the SMSF administration business formerly owned by Super Managers Australia, which now operates under the brand SMSF Managers.

Bedding down these numerous changes, which resulted in staff more than doubling to 125, has prompted Mckeage to push ahead with the business strategy.

“We’ve got most things in place now to really start making a bigger mark on the industry,” she says.

“I think what we’d really like to do is deliver more economical, scalable choices to the consumer and in that process convey the value of advice. Right now, people think that self-directed and advice are diametrically opposed. We argue that if you educate the client, they start seeing the value in advice.”

Finding financial services

Growing up on a dairy farm 45 minutes away from Montreal, Canada, Mckeage recalls her younger years afforded her an enormous amount of freedom.

“My parents were travelling quite a bit with my father’s job – he used to design turbines for dams, which put him in very remote areas – and they didn’t want to take us out of school, so I lived primarily with my grandparents,” she recounts.

“They were very simple people but incredibly modern in a lot of ways. They were farmers and worked from morning until night. There wasn’t much money to go around, but I just had this incredible freedom, which I suspect led to being quite self-sufficient.

“I was a free spirit. We had 500 acres, including woods, and we had a cabin. We’d make maple syrup from the sap from the trees."

Mckeage, who early on switched from journalism to an arts and science degree, reveals she has never been one to have a set direction.

“Often when I speak to teenagers and people in their 20s, they feel a bit lost because they don’t know exactly what they want to be,” she says.

“I’ve never known that, but I’ve had the most interesting life.

“With some people, the fluidity of opportunities opening up to you is just as exciting as knowing exactly what you want to be early on.”

She eventually found her way to Melbourne as a foreign student to study commerce, which took her to her “accidental” job at Bankers Trust Australia, now BT Financial Group, marking the start of her career in Australian financial services in 1983.

“There wasn’t actually a role – it varied from data entry for application forms, running the customer service centre and because we didn’t have very many people, I did a little bit of everything,” she recalls.

“We were all generalists, so specialisation came later and that took a bit of getting used to.

“I worked closely with a special person called Terry Power, who I will always be grateful to for giving me my first break in the industry.”

Almost four years later, Mckeage shifted to Rothschild Asset Management to run its sales and customer service, but moved on after finding she didn’t quite suit the culture.

She then worked in Asia for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and later found a role that took her to the United States.

“While I was overseas, I was approached to help set up Etrade in Australia, which took me into the digital world. I had no broking experience and neither did most of the team, by the way,” she shares.

“I’ll always be grateful to Paul Rickard, who was at the time running CommSec, for his support. A lot of people thought we were competitive, but I have an enormous amount of respect for Paul.

“We were growing a new market together and therefore we were much more aligned than competitors, despite what the market would think at first sight.”

Mckeage found herself back at PWC, working in its corporate finance department, which subsequently introduced her to OneVue.

“I saw the potential of leveraging what was then called Pentafin into a unified managed account, which I had exposure to in the United States. I thought that’s where the consumer market will go and it was a great starting point for taking a business there,” she says.

“So my husband and I became the major shareholders at that point in time and put money in to start, I guess, the development of OneVue as it is today.”

Discovering OneVue

At the time Mckeage crossed paths with OneVue it was simply a unit registry software business.

“It had two clients, who we still have, and I’ll always be grateful to both of them for sticking with us when it was a bit tough at the beginning,” she says.

“It was tough because the business owners at the time were extremely visionary, but they didn’t really know about what you needed to do to grow the company in a sustainable way. So there were delivery issues at that point and we had to turn those around.”

However, she credits working in institutions as having helped inform the direction of OneVue.

“I’m grateful for my institutional background,” she says.

“When you come from a large institution you become very conscious of the scalability of clients and compliance.

“I think what happens with a lot of founders is that they have the creativity and they certainly have the vision of where they want to go, but they’re missing the discipline and lacking that discipline is what often brings you under.

“Whereas where you’ve got the large institutions, there’s so much discipline that you can’t actually get anything done, but then choosing not to be in one means we could create something new and get things done faster.”

Authenticity

As chief executive since 2007, Mckeage believes the most important quality a leader can have is authenticity, which in turn influences and drives company culture.

“I’m a great fan of authenticity,” she says.

“If you are honest and transparent, that does set the culture.

“It’s when people at the top try to be someone they’re not, people get the wrong message.

“I stand for change and advocacy of the consumer, but more importantly, one of the attributes that is very important to us as an organisation is respect, regardless of your position.

“Those things just permeate the organisation. I think that culture is set by the beliefs at the top and your ability to make those a common belief in our value system.”

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