By Audette Exel, CEO and Founder, Adara Partners
I was driving them completely crazy. As we hiked up and down the hills and along beaches in Freycinet, my poor brother and sister-in-law listened patiently as I yet again debated out loud whether or not it might work. “I just know the best investment bankers will love this idea” I said for the hundredth time, trying to convince myself. “They want to use their skills for purpose. Everyone does. And if we can build a technology platform to allow deals to be run in a distributed fashion…”
In vain they tried to get me to look at the view and the extraordinary setting we were hiking in. “Look, it’s a quokka!” they exclaimed.
It could have been a lion and I wouldn’t have noticed. I was possessed by the idea that Adara may be able to launch a business platform – a Panel – that allowed the absolute leaders of the investment banking industry to give advice at the highest levels of excellence to corporate Australia, with all fees benefitting people in huge need in the world’s most remote places. It would represent a huge expansion on our existing business, and a completely new model.
I had spent the last 17 years running a corporate advisory business solely for the purpose of creating revenue for Adara, an international non-profit we set up at the same time as we set up the business. It had grown into an amazing organisation touching the lives of tens of thousands of people in extreme poverty every year. I knew what an incredible joy it was to use my business skills in the corporate world to help people in need. And yet there was no construct that allowed investment bankers to use their mastery directly for purpose in the way that the law firms and accounting firms had done so brilliantly in their pro bono work for so many years.
Every time I said “investment bankers” and “pro bono” in the same sentence, people waited for the punchline. But it wasn’t a joke. It was a hole that was crying out to be filled.
And so Adara Partners came to be. For a couple of years leading up to launch, incredible people stepped forward to help us. ASIC, our regulator, worked around the clock to help us ensure that the structure would meet all compliance and risk management standards. We needed to ensure Panel Members could work with us on mandates, while at the same time running their own home firms and professional commitments. An Advisory Committee of senior figures came together to help us think. A core banking team joined me. Deloitte and ansarada had the vision to see the power of the idea, and threw their lot in with us as significant strategic partners. MinterEllison helped us work through the complex legal structure. A small group of leading families agreed to lend us the capital, interest free, to get off the ground.
And one by one, the Panel had begun to form. David Gonski, Matthew Grounds, Guy Fowler, Catherine Brenner, Ilana Atlas. It doesn’t get much better than that. Peter Hunt, Peter Mason, Nora Scheinkestel, Diccon Loxton, Steven Skala. And, more recently, Graham Goldsmith. With backgrounds from some of the leading institutions in the country: ANZ, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Greenhill, Westpac, Allens.
Some of the most respected men and women in the financial services industry, with the utmost integrity, working together in pairs to co-lead advisory mandates at the highest levels of Australian corporate and business life. With one aim: generating revenue to support people in need.
It’s a year ago today since we launched. We have two mandates under our belt now: the first being for an ASX20 company. We have been appointed to both Federal and NSW State preferred advisor panels. We are just about to go through the $1 million mark of revenues raised for our work.
One of our Panel Members, Guy Fowler, and his wife Anita, came to Nepal with me to see our work first hand a couple of months ago. We were sitting on a big rock in a remote mountain village that has been catastrophically affected by the earthquake, where our teams are supporting villagers to rebuild their lives. He was waxing lyrical about loving the way he could do what he does best – investment banking – to help these communities directly. “It’s my best use” he said.
Ask any one of our Panel Members how they feel about Adara Partners, and they beam with pride and enthusiasm. It’s just the first year, but we are out of the starting blocks, with gratitude, and a whole lot of hope for what lies ahead.
I was back in Tasmania recently, up at Cradle Mountain, hiking again in all that beauty. “How’s Adara Partners going?” asked my wonderful brother, whose support has been unwavering for 18 long years. “Great!” I replied “Two deals done already! …But did you see that wombat?!”