By Geoff Wilson’s own reckoning, the Australian Stockbrokers Foundation he helped establish has raised about $8 million for a range of charities, such as Odyssey House and the Sydney Children’s Hospital, since 1994.
This financial year, the two Future Generation-listed investment companies that the veteran fund manager established two decades later should deliver that sum alone to a range of mental health and youth suicide prevention charities.
They will repeat that the following year — depending on how the LICs’ shares perform — and the next year, under a formula that guarantees the charities 1 per cent of the LICs’ assets in perpetuity.
The executive chairman of Wilson Asset Management and founding member of both foundations is this year dubbed an officer in the general division of the Order of Australia for services to the business and finance sector, professional financial bodies and the community as a supporter of charitable foundations.
The New Zealand-born and Melbourne-raised Mr Wilson says he became involved in charity by chance when a friend of a friend asked him to help former senior bureaucrat and then Qantas chairman John Menadue raise money to refurbish the Matthew Talbot homeless hostel in Sydney.
“My father was a doctor, mother was a nurse and I was one of six children, and what has always been important was to be involved in the community,” Mr Wilson, 60, says.
“And so when I was asked to go on the committee, even though I was a Victorian, not knowing exactly what the Matthew Talbot hostel was I was eager to get involved in something in Sydney.
“What we decided was, let’s not just have a dinner, let’s create a foundation and have a mandate to support not only Matthew Talbot but a lot broader.”
While not as social or lively as the annual awards dinners for the stockbrokers and fund managers that are their main philanthropic forum, Future Generation is in another league.
It has developed charitable funding to an industrial scale, giving the beneficiaries the certainty to focus resources on their work rather than fundraising or wondering where the next donation is coming from.
“The stockbrokers foundation still raises a couple of hundred thousand a year but to me the exciting part is that in 50 years’ time we will all be getting on but the Future Generation vehicles, they will continue to grow and the impact that they will have in the not-for-profit space will continue to grow as well. Because for a charity it’s the best quality funding that they will get: annuity stream funding that will grow over time.
“And to my mind if we can prevent one child from being abused then the whole exercise has been worthwhile.”
Mr Wilson has convinced leading domestic and international equities managers to donate their services in running a portion of the LICs’ money for free. WAM contributes about $500,000 a year for its part in running the LICs.
After starting out as an equities analyst at Scottish Amicable in Melbourne and moving into broking — including stints in New York and London in the late 1980s and early 1990s — Mr Wilson got his break into funds management in 1998.
Tim Hughes, the money man for Australian television legend Reg Grundy, gave him $500,000 to manage, alongside $500,000 of his own and WAM was born.
Twenty years on, the empire has grown to $2.7 billion — excluding Future Generation — and is the fourth-biggest LIC manager in the nation.