It costs $3000 to attend, but few along at Sydney’s second Sohn Hearts & Minds Investment Leaders Conference would say it was anything but a bargain.
The event moves the market. Just ask Virgin Australia boss John Borghetti. Stock in his airline popped 13 per cent after wide-travelling fund manager Geoff Wilson made his presentation (introduced with the Indiana Jones theme song) about why his Wilson Asset Management bought into Virgin a bit over a month ago.
Wilson told the Sohn crowd his meeting with Borghetti a few months ago was the first by an Australian institutional investor in almost two years. And as Wilson argued — persuasively, to go by the share price — investors have missed a great opportunity.
“The market’s forgotten about it,” Wilson said, before trotting out his reasons to buy Virgin: an earnings upgrade cycle, undervalued assets and the likelihood that in the next two years the airline will be taken private.
“From my perspective, with a company like that you’ve got to arm the doors, cross check and be ready to take off,” Wilson said.
By the time he was quaffing champagne in the afternoon sun at the Sydney Opera House bar with his fellow Sohn attendees, Virgin had been nudged to put out an ASX statement offering an explanation as to why the share price had popped.
The only thing that the airline could point to was Wilson’s presentation at Sohn.
But the ASX statement didn’t mention the best bit. Borghetti was along in the Opera House crowd yesterday, even asking a question after Wilson’s presentation. “Can I say great presentation,” Borghetti began. “But I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t talk about management. Would you care to say anything (about that)?”
Once the laughter died down, Wilson was only too happy to elaborate.
A lolly for Solly
John Borghetti was far from the only attendee impressed by the charitable event, the result of much hard work by its founders Gary Weiss (the one with the hair) and Matthew Grounds (the local boss of UBS).
Indeed, billionaire retailer Solomon Lew had such a good time, Margin Call can reveal he is trying to poach the event.
Lew yesterday donated $300,000 from his family foundation to Sohn to support health and medical research.
“There’s a hook to that donation,” Lew told us, mischievously. “They have to bring it to Melbourne.”
And we hear plans are under way to migrate Sohn south in the coming years.
Lew — who with a $2.4 billion fortune was the richest person in what was a fabulously rich room — is now only six nights away from Friday’s Myer AGM at the retailer’s flagship Melbourne store.
Is the activist investor — who has Grounds’ UBS advisers helping out — going to attend to personally make his case to depose Myer’s chairman-elect, Garry Hounsell?
“Shareholders will find out on Thursday,” Lew told us.
Solomon Lew wasn’t the only Melbourne-based billionaire at Sohn yesterday. Thorney Investment founder Alex Waislitz (entering to The Police’s Every Breath You Take) took the stage to spruik Oventus, a microcap ASX-listed sleep apnoea/snoring device company.
The stock popped 15 per cent after the billionaire investor’s presentation, although with a market cap of $30 million it’s still early days.
The Thorney boss is a major shareholder in Fairfax and, as of this week, the Antony Catalano-led Fairfax property spin-off Domain.
Waislitz had lunched in Sydney the day before with Fairfax boss Greg Hywood at Neil Perry’sCantonese joint Jade Temple, an hour or so after Domain’s ASX listing, just on the other side of Bridge Street. The perfect spot to celebrate the historic achievement and to, presumably, ask: “Now what?”
Yes, Prime Minister
Paul Keating, the stand-out act of Sohn’s Australian debut last year, was again on the bill.
Following Matthew Grounds’ guidance, the former prime minister — who took the stage to Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries — put his Middle Kingdom expertise to work in his address.
That’s been recently honed through his chairmanship of the advisory board of the enormous China Development Bank.
“Our balance sheet is four times the World Bank,” Keating told the crowd, which included his partner Julieanne Newbould and businesswoman sister Anne Keating, not to mention Tamarama-based Pacific Equity Partners co-founder Paul McCullagh and one of the private equity shop’s former employees, Anthony Kerwick (now at rival Adamantem, as publicised recently by PEP in the Supreme Court).
China also allowed a way for Keating to sledge Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“If you read Malcolm’s speeches to the Lowy Institute five years ago, they’re completely different to now,” Keating said. “He was saying five years ago things that I’m saying today — not with as much sophistication, of course.”
As it happened, Turnbull was Sohn’s unannounced final speaker (taking the stage at the end of this historic, same-sex marriage-affirming week to John Paul Young’s Love is in the Air). The PM was the perfect fit for an event that celebrates clever investing and generous philanthropy.
No rest for the wicked
With about $10m committed to Sohn’s fund on top of the $10m foundation investment shelled out by the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Gary Weiss could barely contain his good mood as he led the event’s moneyed attendees to the Opera Bar.
The fabled corporate raider — who once played lead guitar in a pub rock band — had gone to great trouble to make the event a success, even refining the day’s music playlist with his partner, Christine Steinmetz.
Following his excellent DJ-ing work, on Monday Weiss will preside over his first Ardent Leisure AGM as chairman. Back to work.