This emerging growth capital firm benefits from a team comprising different generations, backgrounds and world views. This achieves superior outcomes for the business and its portfolio companies.

Independently-managed growth capital firm Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF) was founded in 2020 by the Commonwealth government, the four major banks, Macquarie Bank and HSBC. Its purpose is to support the growth of promising small businesses by applying patient capital to them, through a minority stake.

The Australian Investment Council (AIC) sat down with CEO Anthony Healy to find out more about how the team is embedding diversity in the business.

A diversity pedigree

Healy has always been focused on diversity across a stellar career in financial services. Three decades working across markets including Asia and the Middle East has informed his approach. In his experience, diversity leads to better conversations, decision making and outcomes.

Previously, Healy was CEO of the Bank of New Zealand and led National Australia Bank’s large business banking division. He is a long-term independent director of not-for-profit Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand, which provides crisis services to women and girls, and independent non-executive director of Bank Australia.

Setting the foundations

From day one, Healy has been focused on creating a genuinely diverse culture. He has a broad definition of what diversity means and delineates it from the notion of inclusion.

For AGBF, diversity embraces concepts such as where someone grows up, their cultural experiences and their professional background. Inclusion is an applied version of this. It’s about the framework that supports the business's approach to diversity.

Implementing an approach to diversity that matches AGBF’s values means being explicit about what its culture represents. This is expressed across everything the business does, including the way it hires, engages with and motivates staff, right down to expectations around meetings and communication styles.

For instance, meetings are only scheduled between 9.00 am and 5.30 pm and Healy has implemented unplugged weekends, during which staff are encouraged to turn their attentions to priorities other than work. “I usually don’t send or respond to emails at weekends, late at night and early in the morning. It’s important to model behaviours you want others to follow,” he says.

The inclusive culture extends to the routine of each working day. For instance, there is flexibility in where and when people work. “We don’t count the number of hours people work. What matters is how everyone works together, creates value and moves the firm forward.”

Healy recognises being an emerging business is an advantage when embedding a robust approach to diversity. "It's an easier task to build a culture at a start-up with a blank slate, versus inheriting a culture that has been built up over a century or more."

Walk the talk

As at February 2023, ABGF has 28 team members, 25 are ABGF employees and three are bank secondees, who are fully focused on ABGF. There’s a 50:50 man-woman gender split across the team, including a 50:50 gender balance in the investment team. The business also has a mix of racial-cultural backgrounds, and generations, with 7% Gen Z, 68% Gen Y and 25% who are Gen X.

As this shows, in its short life ABGF has already achieved a strong track record when it comes to diversity. But Healy acknowledges there’s more to be done. In particular, he wants to broaden the professional backgrounds from which his team is drawn.

“We have a highly talented, diverse investment team from a gender and culture perspective. But most come from a private equity background. We needed that early on, because we needed access to technical skills. Now, we’re looking more broadly to hire people who come from a small and mid-sized business and family business background. This will mean we have people in our team who are representative of the businesses we invest in.”

Concurrently, Healy’s team also has an eye for diversity in ABGF’s investee businesses and applies an ESG lens when making an investment. This is because prioritising diversity has business benefits.

Says Healy: “We want to make sure our portfolio companies take a responsible approach to environmental, social and governance issues. This is not so much compliance driven; we are conscious the ESG practices of large companies would overwhelm small companies. We want to take a proactive and practical approach. Doing this well will deliver value for our investees, the community and the Australian economy, which is why ABGF was set up in the first place.”

Published September 2022