Koda Capital Founders’ Brotherly Love

11 Mar 2020

It’s been a challenging road for finance industry veterans Paul Heath and Steve Tucker, but there’s always time for mischief.

Paul Heath and Steve Tucker are co-founders of independent wealth management firm Koda Capital, where Heath is CEO and Tucker is chairman. They spoke to AFR BOSS magazine about their working relationship.

Paul Heath

Steve and I are similar ages and grew up one suburb apart in Perth. I joke that he went to the rich boys’ school and I went to the poor boys’ school. Then we were at the University of Western Australia at the same time. It’s impossible to imagine our paths didn’t cross, but I don’t remember him. I had a lot of fun at university.

In 2009, we began working together, when National Australia Bank acquired JBWere from Goldman Sachs. I was running JBWere and Steve invited me to be part of the management group running NAB Wealth. From the end of 2009, I was reporting to him.

Working with Steve is like working with your older brother. There’s a lot of banter and mischief and competition, but it’s built on a foundation of trust, respect and affection. Steve deeply cares for the people around him.

I think when we came together in 2009, we were both able to identify in each other the battle scars of change. In 2006, Steve publicly called for the end of commissions. That was a bold statement that took enormous courage, but it took a lot of bark off him, too. About the same time, I’d set about transitioning JBWere from being a stockbroking business to a wealth management business, and there was a huge amount of fallout from that.

Steve left NAB in February 2013, and I put in my resignation at the end of April 2013. So the two of us were unemployed, and in my case probably unemployable.

Towards the end of 2013, I said to Andrew Rutherford, who was chief operating officer at JBWere, and Quentin Reeve, my chief of staff: “Look, I reckon there’s a gap in the market [for] this idea of a high-net-worth business that’s truly independent advice. Everybody else is starting to flog product, this is just advice. Do you reckon we could build it?”

We felt we needed credibility and a leadership structure that gave the business status. We approached Steve and he latched on to the idea very quickly.

Lots of people said we were going to go broke, and for a long time, it looked like they were right. That’s where I go back to Steve’s capacity to be in the business but slightly out of the business with a different perspective.

In the early days, I worried enormously about the people who had put their faith in me and the team. I worried about the investors. I worried about the staff who had left secure jobs to come to this start-up. That was where Steve was fantastic at just pulling back and saying, “Let’s remind ourselves what we’re doing here and where it is and what it is we’re trying to do.” Steve was always able to have that perspective. No one was going to die, and he kept reminding me of that.

Steve is mischievous. Very early in the life of Koda, we didn’t have a huge amount of capital. We were having a board meeting and a couple of pallets of umbrellas with the Koda logo on them had arrived. A flippant comment I had made had been misinterpreted and we were spending money on [unnecessary] stuff.

Steve knew I had a relatively high level of anxiety about this decision and as we’re in the board meeting, discussing whether we’re actually going to get through the quarter from a cash flow perspective, Steve leans back in his chair and goes: “You know what we need? We need some umbrellas.” But he can get away with it because I know that he cares deeply about me and what’s really going on.

I don’t think Steve and I have ever fought about anything, but we’ve disagreed about a lot of stuff. We have the ability to be frank and honest in solving the problem and getting to the solution that we can both get behind and work with. We don’t leave stuff unsaid or unresolved, and that’s really important.

Steve Tucker

I left [NAB’s wealth arm] MLC in early 2013 and he quit NAB in April 2013. We’d been staying in touch, having a catch-up here and there.The first time we interacted business-wise was when JBWere was for sale and Goldman Sachs was getting out of JBWere. I met Paul in a management meeting because we were doing due diligence. He’s very eloquent and quite skilled in presenting. I thought, “Oh, this guy’s pretty well prepared and pretty smart.”Paul and I would have come across each other at university, but I don’t actually remember him. He was doing a commerce degree, and I was doing an economics degree. Same faculty, different course.

He came to me reasonably early on just to bounce off the idea of what he was thinking about with Koda. It resonated with me because we’d been thinking of and talking about working towards the same thing inside an institution, and the idea that we could be lucky enough to come together to do something with a blank sheet of paper without all of the issues and legacy and challenges around transition was pretty exciting.

It was sometime later when they started to get serious that we sat down and talked about whether I wanted to be involved. I thought, well, I do.

It was audacious at the time, but the challenge I had for Paul and the other guys was: how serious are you? If you’re going to do this, it’s going to be big and successful and challenge the system and we’re going to show an industry what it can look like.

I’ve been described as being a little bit mischievous because I like to have fun with people who I like, respect and enjoy. It’s not ever done in any way other than to lighten a difficult moment or to challenge people in a way that helps them to think about it in a slightly different perspective.

Paul and I have fairly well-formed views and I’d say 80 per cent are in total agreement, but 20 per cent we’ll debate vigorously. Starting a company from scratch, taking capital from external shareholders, the pressure of all of the obligations that he took on, all those things meant there was going to be some real tension in the process, but never in a way where we threw the toys out of the cot or we stormed out of the room or anything like that, which is unusual.

He’s got a difficult job because he’s got to manage the short term, the medium term and the long term. I’ve got the luxury of thinking more about the medium term and the long term.

We have dinner at each other’s place a couple of times a year, and we’ll socialise when we have the board here for meetings. Our partners catch up occasionally – they’re not best friends, but they’ll grab a lunch or catch up. Paul and I go out on my catamaran occasionally.

Paul thinks he knows about AFL, but I do his footy tipping for him. I support the Greater Western Sydney Giants and he loosely supports the West Coast Eagles, but I’m working on him to be a Giant.

We both have a love of wine – we both like a good red. Occasionally after a board meeting, we bring a bottle in and we’ll have a glass of wine. He’s got a really weak cellar. He’s not very good at all, but he brings in these wines, and that’s nice.

Read more at afr.com

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