Fiona bows out in style… with lots of friends

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by Greg Bright

It’s been a bit like the Johnny Farnham farewell tour, but everyone wanted to say goodbye to Fiona Trafford-Walker. One of the most influential asset consultants Australia has seen, she was certainly the most universally liked. Her retirement into the non-executive director space coincided with Frontier Advisors’ 25th birthday celebrations.

At the Sydney farewell last week – which followed similar in Brisbane, and the biggest one in Melbourne, as you’d expect, and numerous more-private goodbyes – Andrew Polson, who has been chief executive of Frontier Advisors for “only 18 months”, as he said, probably put everyone’s thoughts most succinctly: “To say that Fiona has made a huge contribution to the investment business is a huge understatement. She has left an incredible legacy.”

Garry Weaven was one of the speakers at the Melbourne farewell. He was definitely the most important person in moulding the shape of the profit-for-member super sector and its supporting businesses, who had launched the fledgling Industry Fund Services shortly before Fiona was hired by Ray King, its head of asset consulting, in 1994.

Other speakers in Melbourne included: Gabriel Szondy, Frontier’s chair; Kim Bowater, the firm’s director of consulting; Ray King, an independent consultant through his firm Sovereign Investment Research; fund chief executives David Atkin of Cbus and Debby Blakey of HESTA, and Kristian Fok, a former deputy chief executive of Frontier and now executive manager of investment strategy at Cbus.

Angela Emslie, Garry Weaven’s wife, who has also had an influential and successful career as a trustee, spoke in Sydney. She had had a long and close relationship with Fiona. Emslie became a trustee of HESTA in 1994, and subsequently its chair, working with Fiona on the fund for many years. In the early days, Fiona recalls, she often had to fill in for senior management at HESTA during holiday periods.

Emslie said at the Sydney farewell: “In 1994 Fiona sensed an opportunity and joined Garry Weaven in their start-up (Fiona had worked with Ray King for couple of years previously at Towers Perrin). She was promoted to be head of advisory services in 1997, which was rare in an industry dominated by men.”

Emslie said: “Fiona has an unflinching sense of ethics and a big capacity for work. She really thought like a trustee. And she was a mentor to many people… She became a strategic advisor to HESTA, a role she recently stepped down from. She was fearless… and a strong supporter of women. Frontier is all about being a trusted advisor and ‘Fi’ is the epitome of that.

“I think Frontier [of which Emslie is also a director]has come of age, 25 years after its birth. It has been the quiet achiever in the industry during that time. Fiona, you will be sorely missed.”

Kim Bowater, Frontier’s director of consulting, who joined the firm in 2002 after it had separated from IFS so it could remain a pure asset consultant, without potential conflicts over funds management and other business activities, said the firm now had about 75 staff but had retained the culture of its early days.

“Everyone is pushing in the same direction and pushing for positive change in the industry,” she said. “We’re a diverse group of people with a diverse group of skills. But maybe we still have a few more people with maths degrees than we should!”

On a personal note, Bowater said, she admired Fiona’s clarity of thought and conviction in taking a stand on things that mattered. It was Fiona’s moral compass and mentorship which would be remembered by people she worked with.

Coming to Fiona Trafford-Walker herself, when she spoke, briefly, at the Sydney event, she said that when she joined IFS from Towers Perrin (now Willis Towers Watson) she had finally seen her “purpose”. She said: “Towers Perrin was a powerhouse. We had to keep a record of our time in six-minute lots. At IFS timesheets were not important. The people we worked for were important. That was the reason I wanted to do that work. I got to work with a lot of smart nice people working for other people.”

Thinking of the last 25 years, she said, there were two things of which she was particularly proud:

  • “We actually made it. It showed me you can do stuff if you do it together”, and
  • “Our contribution to clients’ performance – Frontier made an impact.”
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