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Featured Profile: Darryl Johnson

Running the gamut

Darryl Johnson was conned into running by a manager 15 years ago. Little did Johnson know, running would soon become his life's passion, and the lessons learnt from training and competing in ultramarathons would set him up for success in the finance world. Chloe Walker writes.

Darryl Johnson knows a thing or two about running. He also knows a thing or two about running a business.

As founder and chief executive of Integrated Portfolio Solutions (IPS), Johnson is always "training hard to race easy" and encourages the teams he leads in both running and business to always "find a better way of doing things".

From humble beginnings in Sydney's west, as a child Johnson enjoyed sports, and often took part in Little Athletics alongside his siblings. His true passion for running, however, would not come until much later in life.

"I was always interested in sport as a child," Johnson recalls.

"Mum would drag us down on a Saturday morning to Little Athletics and I was the only one who really wanted to be there. But I gave up sports and everything else except school to ensure I did well on my HSC, which, in hindsight, I probably regret - but thankfully I did quite well."

Armoured with good marks, Johnson took on a degree in maths and finance at the University of Technology Sydney.

"Numbers are really something that I just talk to, so my career was always going to be related to that," he says.

From university, Johnson landed his first role at Bankers Trust (BT) working through multiple operational roles such as custody, margin lending, and general operations.

"It was always operations that I was drawn to because it gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself and come up with better ways of doing things," Johnson says.

"It's generally not the sexy part of a business, but it's the engine room where you've got to keep things moving and make sure you're operating efficiently. And that's challenging."

From BT, Johnson progressed to several different operational roles at Deutsche Bank and HSBC both in Sydney and the UK.

Later, he accepted a role in the Wrap division of Macquarie Bank.

"Everything you hear about Macquarie from 10-20 years ago is true," Johnson laughs.

"They work you really hard. If you work hard, you get rewarded and if you put your hand up for more work, you'll continue to get rewarded.

"The experience I gained at Macquarie was second to none and I had exposure to some really great operators."

A stint in financial planning followed and,  although short, would lay the groundwork for what he does today.

Johnson says: "I completed the Diploma of Financial Planning, which was the requirement at the time to be a qualified financial planner. I worked in a business where you had your client base on a platter, so it was a private financial planning business, but they had a preferred client base from state government."

It was great, but if Johnson wanted to start his own business or join another, he knew it would come with a large element of sales.

"I didn't really like where that fit with financial planning at the time," he said.

So, Johnson decided to go back to what he knew and loved: Operations.

"I wanted to go back to Operations but on the other side of financial planning, and that's where Macquarie and some of my experience in other roles came into play," he explains.

"This is squarely where I am now; on the other side of the financial planning fence and helping financial advisers get better outcomes for their clients."

Inspired by successful founder-led businesses around him, Johnson decided to run the gauntlet himself.

"I would always follow colleagues and former managers to other roles. Quite simply, they would leave their business and go to another one, and then a few months later, they would contact me and see what I was up to, and sure enough, I'd end up following them to the same company," he says.

"Again, I gained a tremendous amount of experience from doing that. But along the way I'd hear stories about the guy who sat on the milk crate and created a business which went from four staff to 4000 staff. I'd hear those stories and think 'I want to be that guy. I want to have a story'."

He decided he was no longer going to follow anybody or "take the easy way and get tapped on the shoulder". Instead, he started looking for a start-up role.

And Johnson found what he was looking for in IPS.

"We had a little bit of a leg up in the fact that the other co-founder of the business is a financial adviser, so we already had a client base. But still  it was that milk crate story, where it was just us," Johnson says.

Fast forward to today and IPS has just over 50 staff and boasts $10 billion in funds under administration.

"We're dealing with advisers from all walks of life: retail advisers, family offices, ultra high-net-worths. That universe is untapped for us, even though it's $10 billion, the sky's the limit," Johnson says.

Now in a position of growth, Johnson's day-to-day role at IPS has shifted from doing "anything and everything" to focusing solely on plans for the future.

"It's taken a long time to get to where we are, but now we've got a really good team and a great leadership team as well. Those guys take on a lot of the high-level stuff that I might have been doing before... . I'm constantly looking at key business metrics to make sure the business health is where it needs to be and exploring many different opportunities," Johnson says.

Drawing comparisons to running in marathons, Johnson says preparation is crucial for any business' success.

"In running there are setbacks and injuries, both mental and physical, and you get that in business too," he says.

"You could be preparing or building for something, whether it be new technology, or a new team, and suddenly there'll be a setback. For example, you get an email from an angry adviser because you've made a mistake.

"You get that with running as well and mentally, you've just got to overcome it and know that you're in a position where you can move forward, because you've done the hard work, in training and in business, to deal with this.

In business, the key is to build loyalty and fix your mistakes, he says.

"With running, races are the reward for all the hard training. So, "train hard to race easy" is something I say all the time," Johnson says.

In business, it's the same, he adds:  "If we've trained hard, built a good team and prepared well, when we start winning more business and becoming more and more successful it comes easy because we've done the prep."

In an ever-changing economic environment, Johnson says IPS is ahead of the game. Without giving too much away on the IPS pipeline, he says that "the world of finance is ever changing".

"We have a view that the world's going to look very, very different, particularly in finance in five years' time, and then in another five years' time, so we're working on products and services that ensure we stay ahead of that change," he explains.

"I also think, after 11 years, we're in a place where we can be part of the change and not just go with the change." fs