For super funds and their advisers

End of an era at Link Group

John McMurtrie

by Greg Bright

It had to happen, of course, but sometimes when it does it is still a bit of a shock. John McMurtrie, the driving force for nearly 20 years behind what became Link Group, announced last Friday (August 7) his intention to retire early in 2021. The Link board has gone outside the company for his successor, choosing Vivek Bhatia, the chief executive of QBE, as the next managing director. But it’s McMurtrie’s legacy that we’ll be hearing about for at least the next few months.

That legacy is probably worthy of a book, not just a series of media articles and farewell events, in which McMurtrie will no-doubt have to participate. He took over as the boss of a small Australian securities registry joint venture between Perpetual Trustees and the ASX in 2001, which was a time of economic and market uncertainty immediately after the dot-com bubble had burst. Ironically, Bhatia will also be taking over at a similarly uncertain time for both economies and markets. As McMurtrie would probably say and genuinely mean: “Good luck son.”

There will be plenty of time for the history of Link Group to unfold between now and when he actually leaves. He said that the board had asked him to stay on as an advisor, which he was happy to do. In a nutshell, it is a story of incredible growth by both strategic acquisitions and organic advances. The little joint-venture business has become a global company, diversified by business lines and geographies, which employs about 6,500 people. Just the quick transfer to a working-from-home protocol this year must have been a massive effort.

The fit and active 72-year-old said there were a lot of things he still wanted to do in life, both personally and professionally. “Professionally, I might do a couple of things with some private investors,” he said. “I won’t be idle”. It reminds one of the quote by the famous author Bill Bryson about retirement. Bryson allegedly said in an interview: “Writers never retire. They either drink themselves to death or blow their brains out.” McMurtrie laughs and hopes we don’t go down either path.

Personally, travel sits high on his agenda. Undeterred by current shutdowns, he and his wife Deborah plan to do a lot more travel together, rather than his previously constant trips between Sydney and Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland, and, increasingly, in the past few years, between Sydney and London. “I’ll at last have freedom from my diary and business schedules,” he says. “I will no longer be driven by my diary.” For the foreseeable future, travel will likely be confined to Australia. Right now, for the Sydney-based couple, it will be confined to NSW. Luckily, they like to holiday whenever they can at Pambula on the far south coast of NSW near the Victorian border. As of the last census in 2016, the pretty town had a population of 970.

One suspects he will always maintain his strong interest in sport. McMurtrie, in his youth, was a first-grade cricketer in his home state of South Australia and then played for the ACT. He is a prominent member and supporter of the Sydney Swans AFL club. Getting in touch with his more artistic side, he has recently taken up learning to play the saxophone.

Business wise, he thinks that what will come out of lockdown for a lot of businesses is more of a “hybrid model” of mixing working from home with working from the office. But he says that productivity had been good for the first couple of months of lockdown but has recently started to drop off a little. This will be an important subject of study industry wide around the business world over the next couple of years.

Michael Carapiet, the Link Group chair, said in a prepared statement: “John has made an outstanding contribution to the performance of Link Group during the almost two decades as managing director… Ahead of our ASX listing in 2015, John made a personal commitment to guide the business through the first phase of its operation as a public company. Driven by his vision and dedication, Link Group has evolved from a small share registry business into  a respected, market-leading global provider of technology-enabled administration solutions, with more than 6,500 employees and some of the world’s largest corporations, pension funds and financial institutions among its clients. We enter the next phase of our growth in robust condition thanks to John’s pioneering efforts and strong leadership. We will continue to benefit from John’s experience as an advisor to the business.”

Carapiet also said: “Vivek is a highly credentialed senior executive. We identified a number of quality candidates and the Board concluded that Vivek had the right leadership experience and expertise to lead the next era of growth at Link Group. Vivek is a proven leader with a track record of delivering improved business performance, technological transformation and enhanced client engagement. Building on the strengths of Link Group, he will bring fresh and innovative thinking to the business, helping to ensure it is best positioned to manage the challenges of an integrated global business in a post-COVID-19 world.”

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