As chancellor of Sydney University, Belinda Hutchinson has seen first-hand the tragic impact of mental illness on some of the nation’s best and brightest.
“It is still a major, major issue, no matter what their background. I don’t think people understand the level of the problem we have in our community. You see it in the number of young people attending our psychological services at the university,’’ she tells The Australian.
Which is why she is prepared to put her own money on the line to fix the problem, setting aside $1 million to invest in the new listed investment company to be known as the Future Generation Global Company (FGG).
The FGG, the brainchild of funds management legend Geoff Wilson, is the nation’s first internationally focused LIC with the dual objectives of providing shareholders with exposure to selected global fund managers and changing the lives of young people affected by mental illness.
Due to list on the Australian Securities Exchange in September, it replicates the concept Wilson successfully introduced to Australia last year with the $200 million Future Generation Investment Company (FGIC), which was backed by the likes of Andrew Forrest, Solomon Lew, the Victor Smorgon Group, David Paradice, Alex Waislitz and Neil Balnaves’ Balnaves Foundation.
But the latest venture is far more ambitious, seeking to raise up to $550m, which would make it the largest float for an Australian LIC at a time when many rival for-profit LICs are also hitting the market.
There is also a personal reason for Hutchinson’s involvement in the FGG, where she has agreed to also be chairman. Her own family has also been rocked by the curse of mental illness.
“It was very difficult. It affects the whole family, the children, the friends, seeing someone who is depressed. You feel helpless as a parent and a friend. A lot of people ignore it — they say you’ve got to get over it. But it isn’t like breaking a leg. It is far more complex.’’
She declines to comment further given its sensitivity for her and the family, but says she is not alone.
“Everyone would know a family member or children of friends who have gone through significant issues with their children growing up — anxiety, eating disorders, etc,’’ she says.
“We want to educate the community on the issue, provide the most effective services and then do the research. Fortunately it is starting to get some real focus but I don’t think it has enough focus and resources devoted to it in Australia.’’
After stepping down as the chairwoman of the global insurer QBE at the end of 2013, Hutchinson remains a director of AGL Energy.
She is also on the board of the NSW State Library Foundation and the Salvation Army Eastern Territory Advisory Board.
Hutchinson has also established a family foundation with her husband known as the Eureka Benevolent Foundation to support community-based projects, including the Hunger Project in Malawi, Africa, which provides assistance to 10 villages through a food bank and microfinance program.
“I have looked at a whole range of other boards and it is about what really excites you. I am fortunate to be able to do things that I am passionate about and this is certainly that,’’ she says of the FGG initiative.
On her decision to put $1m into the FGG, she adds: “I am putting my money where my mouth is.’’
The LIC will donate 1 per cent of net tangible assets each year, which could be as much as $5.5m from a raising of $550m, to nine designated Australian charities including Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, Brain & Mind Research Institute, Butterfly Foundation, Headspace and ReachOut Australia.
“We want to have some fun, have a really good investment outcome and provide a great outcome for these charities,’’ Hutchinson says.
“We also need to make sure we properly monitor these charities to ensure that they get the best outcomes — to see good six-monthly and annual reporting.’’
Like its predecessor, the FGC will allocate its funds to a group of big-name investment houses, which have agreed to forego all management and outperformance fees.
They include the likes of Magellan Asset Management Limited, Cooper Investors, Ellerston Capital, IronBridge Capital Management and Paradice Investment Management.
The FGG will also be backed by the likes of billionaire stock picker Alex Waislitz and the Victor Smorgon Group. The latter’s chief financial officer, David Leeton, is on the board of the initial FGIC.
“As a family that’s involved in both the operation and funding of philanthropic organisations, we are very excited to be invested in this type of forward-thinking organisation, which provides a win-win-win — a win for investors, a win for fund managers, and a win for children’s charities,’’ said Victor Smorgon Group chief executive Peter Edwards of the FGC.
“The fund represents an evolution in funding philanthropic endeavours akin to social venture bonds and crowd sourcing.”
Wilson, who will be putting $3m of his own money into the FGG, describes it as a perpetual gift from fund managers and shareholders to young Australians suffering mental illness.
“As well as making a social impact, investors have the opportunity to gain unprecedented access to Australia’s most prominent global fund managers — a number of whom are not accessible to retail investors,” he says.
Also on the board will be Frank Caserotti, general manager of distribution at Magellan Asset Management; Sue Cato, principal of business advisory firm Cato Counsel; Karen Penrose, director of Federation Centres Limited, Spark Infrastructure and Landcom; and Sarah Morgan, director of independent corporate advisory firm Grant Samuel and non-executive director of Adslot and Hansen Technologies.
The FGG will be jointly run by former Philanthropy Australia chief executive Louise Walsh and former PM Capital chief executive Chris Donohoe.