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Proebstl leaves legalsuper (and prepares for another act)

Legalsuper CEO Andrew Proebstl is saying goodbye to the fund he’s run for 20 years. But with super once again standing on the cusp of change, he still wants to be part of the industry.

Andrew Proebstl announced his decision to leave legalsuper after 20 years at the helm on Tuesday (November 8). He’ll exit the fund later this month and chief operating officer Trevin Erichsen will take on the role of interim CEO. Speaking to ISN, Proebstl says it “wasn’t an easy decision to make”.

“I’ve grown up over those 20 years with legalsuper being my day job and a focus of a lot of energy and time. It’s been a big part of my life… It never ends, in a way; there were always things on the horizon that needed to be done, things to achieve, things to think deeply about in terms of positioning the fund. I found it immensely rewarding to be able to navigate through all those challenges and for the fund to have the success it has had.”

But a milestone of 20 years “does tend to turn your mind” to exploring something new and different, Proebstl says. He hasn’t taken any long service leave during his entire career at legalsuper, and it’s a “sensible thing to do” to have a sabbatical, though he’s not particularly good at sitting around either.

“There’s a lot of things happening in the industry that really lend themselves to opportunities for someone who has the length of experience and the type of experience I do,” Proebstl says. “And the industry is again in need of reinventing itself I think, and I’d like to be part of that, leveraging off the experience I’ve had and the knowledge I have. But I pretty much have an open mind about how this might manifest itself.”

To navigate that change, Proebstl says the next CEO of legalsuper has to be able to convince current and prospective members of its points of difference and how it can add value to the lives of people who work in the legal community. With stapling now in place, the way all funds attract members has changed; leaders of all funds “need to be very articulate in conveying that value proposition in a convincing way.” But the most important lessons Proebstl has for fund CEOs from his 20-year term comes from the team he worked alongside.

“It comes down to the team you work with and empowering them to get out and do the job with a hands-off type of mindset,” Proebstl says. “Be clear about what the expectations are, but let your team navigate through the target you’ve set for them and let them live and breathe getting those results. It comes down to attracting and retaining a team of people who are autonomous, and passionate about what they do.”

“That’s what we were able to do at legalsuper. It took a long time to get to a point where I thought that objective had been achieved, but gosh, when I felt it had been achieved I was really pleased with the impact it had on the business and the level of energy that was created.”

During Proebstl’s time at legalsuper, AUM has grown from $190 million to $5 billion, with much of it coming from a spate of merger activity that saw legalsuper take on the Barristers Superannuation Fund, the Blake Dawson Partners fund, and the Victorian Barristers Superannuation Fund (legalsuper was itself born out of the merger between the Law Industry Superannuation Trust and the Legal Industry Superannuation Scheme). Bedding those mergers down was one of Proebstl’s biggest challenges during his time there.

“They were transactions that needed to be managed carefully and sensitively and prudently,” Proebstl says. “There was an element of risk management that had to really kick into play with each of those mergers.”

“And the nuances of negotiating a merger are not without challenge at all. All successful mergers are a meeting of two organisations that think they can be better together than their own. But sometimes it takes you quite a lot of discussion to achieve that. That was the biggest challenge, but one with the greatest outcome, because it led to legalsuper becoming what it has become.”

The question of what he’d like his legacy to be is “easy”.

“The legacy I’ve left is the team itself. They’re passionate, committed, and focused on getting better outcomes for their members. That’s all about sustainability. No fund – nor organisation – ever wants to be reliant on one person.”

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