The MD of multi-billion dollar investment manager Blue Sky Funds explains the benefits of calling Brisbane home

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The motto of ASX-listed Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited is “Alternative Thinking”. The mentality extends beyond the company’s approach to business, and into physical location.

Founded in 2006, Blue Sky now has over $2.7 billion under management and has opened branches across Sydney, Melbourne and even New York.

Home, however, is Brisbane.

As an alternative asset management fund, its interests span private equity and venture capital, agricultural assets, real estate, and hedge funds.

Not bad for a Brisbane-founded company that, as its name suggests, still calls the River City home.

When it comes to finance industry centres in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne naturally spring to mind. But Blue Sky’s managing director Rob Shand believes Brisbane is a rising force in the sector.

“Obviously Brisbane is a smaller market than Sydney or Melbourne but it has a very meaningful financial sector presence through retail banking, insurance and significant state based investment funds. I would say Brisbane punches above its weight in terms of the investible pool of assets generated here.

He also thinks Blue Sky’s choice of home has been beneficial for the company, whose investments now span the globe.

“Many people would still have a picture in their minds of Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s and think of it as just a big country town,” says Shand. “The reality is that that couldn’t be further from the truth these days — the market now has considerable depth.”

It isn’t just restricted to the finance and market sectors.

“The state is also exposed to some fundamentally pretty interesting industries — agriculture, tourism, education, resources — and that is bringing driving positive population trends and there is a real energy to the deal and investing environment here.”

He adds: “Brisbane has provided a remarkable pool of talent for Blue Sky. While we’ve now got a team that spans the major Australian capital cities and New York, our business was founded in Brisbane and we’ve managed to attract a range of executives who have worked in some of the world’s major financial centres, but who have seen the opportunity in alternatives and who have chosen to join us.”

Image: Rob Shand, Blue Sky Alternative Investments

Building a global business network has been central to Blue Sky’s approach to building value for clients. In addition to attracting talent, Shand emphasises that they have a world of connections of global business leaders with global to draw from.

“We seek out other business leaders with global operations, whether they are based in Brisbane or elsewhere, as there is always something we can learn from individuals in these sorts of positions,” he says.

“Having an offshore presence ourselves is a massive opportunity for us, and really the only challenge that comes with that is the travel. As a business, we tend to travel a lot. And I think that helps us — it helps us see what’s going on around the world and get insights that we wouldn’t otherwise get. We apply these insights to our investments, and I think our team end up being better investors as a result.”

He continues, “One example of this you have seen this through our student accommodation joint venture with global investment bank Goldman Sachs and it’s a model that has served us extremely well. We work with organisations who have specific global insights, capital and expertise and use this to create a powerful investment platform for our investors.”

Shand believes having this global perspective is imperative to the business, particularly due to their location.

“At the end of the day, investors can choose to invest their money anywhere… that means that we have to be as good — if not better — than other investment firms globally. Since starting in Brisbane, we’ve since opened offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and New York. Opening the US office in New York was a big decision but it has proven to be an excellent one as we are building a meaningful investment portfolio in the US and this allows us to offer further diversification opportunities for our investors.”

Despite becoming a contender on the global stage, Brisbane still retains snippets of small city charm, which affects business practice in a unique way. When you work in an industry long enough, even large cities can seem small. This is visible in Brisbane, a city that built something of an environment that’s a bit like the community in the eponymous vintage TV show Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

It means reputation counts, and this has been valuable to Blue Sky, given the nature of the private market investments it has built its business around.

“Brisbane is a city built on relationships. It’s obviously not the biggest city in the world, and in most instances there is only 1-2 degrees of separation,” says Shand.

“As such, the business culture in Brisbane is one where reputations matter, and there is nothing more important than building a reputation for doing the right thing. That has suited us very well as we’ve built our business.”

Investment in Brisbane itself coming from government and private investors is something Shand sees as contributing to the future of the city and its business commmunity.

“The population dynamics of more students, particularly from overseas, and retirees choosing to settle here and invest their retirement savings in their lifestyles in and around the local market is a significant driver for business growth,” Shand says.

“Brisbane is one of the fastest growing urban centres in Australia with relative affordability, great climate and general quality of lifestyle playing a huge part in its continued growth and development. I don’t see these trends slowing in any significant way, so these drivers should continue to support and benefit the business and services community in Brisbane.”

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