Two years ago, Scott Schuberg went to a lunch where Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was speaking. Sitting at his table was a prominent Australian publicist. Everyone introduced themselves, and when Schuberg explained he was the boss of a brokerage founded by the late Rene Rivkin she was visibly shocked.
“Oh god,” the publicist said. “Why haven’t you changed the name?”
Rivkin was famed for his excess and infamous for his financial crimes. The stockbroker and entrepreneur — who took his own life in 2005 — was known for his cars, boats, lavish lifestyle, and the insider trading conviction that saw him jailed. He was outlandish and brash, forthright and rich — always looking to make a splash.
He had contemplated his mortality a few years before his death, after having a brain tumour removed.
“It’s not that I thought I was immortal,” he said, “but that I could never imagine the world without me.”
Schuberg, the Rivkin CEO, doesn’t shy away from the legacy. He was there in the wild days, and he’s still on board now, running the business which has undergone a necessary evolution in the years since Rivkin died. Schuberg’s used to reactions such as the one from the publicist. They strengthen his resolve to embrace the past.
“She saw it as a chance to reinvent the brand,” he says. “I don’t want to be seen to be ducking and hiding. I have always seen it as a net benefit.”
Since the early 2000s the business has expanded from stockbroking to include managed investments, financial advice and superannuation services. As an example of performance, Rivkin Local, which commenced in 1997, has an average annual return of 14.7%; the global fund — launched in 2009 — returns an annual average return of 26.94%.
It has also shed the audacity — the overt displays of wealth — that were the bedrock of its image. Schuberg, who worked under Rivkin for six years, and alongside the late broker’s sons, demands humility from all employees — no small task considering the origins of the business.
“He had a garage in Double Bay underneath the building that housed about seven cars,” Schuberg told Business Insider.
“Rene had drivers that would constantly swap those from a warehouse in Alexandria were he kept them all.
“It would come to a new week and he would decide he wanted his black-and-yellow Lamborghini, he wanted this, that and the other Ferarri.
“It was a circus.”
It was not just the possessions that defined the Rivkin excess. There was also an attitude. He was outspoken and loud, always looking to get a rise, and it wasn’t a mindset he toned down in public.
Schuberg remembers one day on Rivkin’s boat, because it was typical Rene. It was the same huge vessel he used as an office — he would work on the back deck and have platters of seafood delivered for lunch. Schuberg, in his mid-twenties at the time, was overwhelmed by the successful and prominent people who had been invited. At some point, the broadcaster Alan Jones described someone as “avuncular”.
Rivkin put Schuberg on the spot. He singled him out, asking if he knew what the word meant. He didn’t, and he was embarrassed, but that was just Rene.
“He just loved to get a rise out of people. I think it contributed to his demise because he just loved to agitate and provoke people.
“I had no idea [what the word meant] and obviously I looked it up and I have never forgotten.”
Things are different today. “I want everybody who works here to be very grateful for the position they are in, to just have a great sense of responsibility for the client’s money — and to have those clients front and centre of mind at all times.”
Management makes this clear when they hire.
Shannon Rivkin, Rene’s son and a director of the business, says the cultural shift was gradual, championed once Schuberg took the CEO role and when legacy partners who owned the business with his father stepped back. But he can remember the heyday, driven by his father’s booming personality.
“My whole family leads a very quiet life now. I live down the road and I walk to work. We are not the sort of people who are going to display that [wealth].”
“It was a natural progression,” he says.
“But we have a meritocracy here — if you do well you will make money.”
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