Why Scott Hartley is leaving Sunsuper – ‘it’s time’

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Scott Hartley, the chief executive of Sunsuper, the big Queensland-based fund, announced his resignation last week. After five years at the helm, Hartley’s news sent a shudder through the industry. He says he has nothing specifically in mind as to what he will do next. He felt it was time to go, that’s all.

The CEOs of big super funds are not like the CEOs of public companies. The super fund CEOs tend to stick around. They have a handful of main constituents, such as trade unions and industry associations. But they have hundreds of thousands of members too. And professional CEOs of big not-for-profit super funds, such as Sunsuper, are actually thin on the ground.

Hartley said over the weekend that he felt he had achieved what he had wanted to achieve during the past five years. Sunsuper had more than doubled in size, in that time, to $66 billion as of the end of May. It has been, in fact, the fastest-growing super fund over the past three years. When he started it was ranked 13th. It is now ranked ninth of all super funds.

Sunsuper also picked up several smaller funds as merger partners in the past two years, thanks largely to its proprietary in-house admin system, acquired from SunGard, which some consider to be the best in the industry. The fund now totals 1.4 million members.

Hartley, who hailed from MLC, as NAB executive general manager for corporate and institutional ‘wealth’, prior to taking on the Sunsuper top job in January 2014, had also been a non-executive director of JANA, the country’s largest asset consulting firm, which was previously owned by NAB and is now majority staff owned. He recruited a number of people from NAB and JANA to Sunsuper, most importantly JANA’s former chief executive, Ian Patrick, who is Sunsuper’s CIO.

Hartley’s legacy at Sunsuper is worth noting. It’s not difficult to double a super fund’s assets under management over a few years – Hartley’s predecessor, Tony Lally, also did it – but the building and retention of a certain culture that empowers its growing number of employees is not so easy. He came into the fund after a difficult period. While not of his doing, the fund also now has an expanded and more diverse board. It is, in many respects, a much better fund.

Hartley’s style was to be inclusive of his senior management. He built up a stronger investment operations team, he – with Ian Patrick – remodelled the investment portfolio, in particular including more smart-beta strategies and increasing after-fee returns, and he broadened the fund’s geographic footprint with mergers and organic growth.

Hartley said that he had mixed emotions about his move but he felt it was the right thing to do for both himself and the fund. He and his chairman, Andrew Fraser, a former deputy premier of Queensland, had recently appointed the recruitment firm Egon Zehnder to do a benchmarking review. This would support a recent restructure of the executive team and give Fraser a good start in recruiting Hartley’s replacement. The fund had strong internal candidates for his role, Hartley said, as well as external candidates.

“Timing is never perfect,” he said. “I don’t have anything specific in mind as to what I’ll do. I have not entertained any approaches [from outside]. I am open to discussions within the industry.”

In his 50s, Hartley sees himself as having at least one more big job in his career ahead of him and would like a fresh challenge.

– G.B.

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