Featured Profile: Alastair MacLeod
Brothers in arms
Two years on from the launch of Wheelhouse Investment Partners, managing director Alastair MacLeod explains the brotherly bond that became a business. Eliza Bavin writes.

No matter what country they were in, or how they managed to get there, it seems Alastair MacLeod was destined to go into business with younger brother, Andrew.

"It all started on this trans-Atlantic connection between him in London and me in New York. We would have our chat boxes open the whole time and it acted as a conduit to what was happening in two different realms," Alastair explains.

In my experience, it's all well and good to read about things and read about the theory, but I have to experience it.
"We were going through the Global Financial Crisis and it was a fascinating period to compare notes as to what he was seeing and what I was seeing."

The brothers established Wheelhouse Investment Partners in partnership with Bennelong Funds Management, along with their friend Sam Jacob, in 2017.  However, the route they took was anything but ordinary.

Growing up in Brisbane, Alastair says they enjoyed a traditional upbringing doing "everything Queenslanders do" before studying commerce at the University of Queensland.

It was then he got his start as an auditor working for Price Waterhouse and later at the merged PwC , saying:  "I've always had to have a passion for what I'm doing, and enjoy what I am doing.  I really, actually enjoyed being an accountant."

"I enjoyed the auditing part because I was learning.  I think you need to have a natural curiosity in life, and if you can fulfill, reward and feed that by learning things every day then it doesn't really matter what you're doing."

His younger brother Andrew, Wheelhouse Investment Partners analyst and trader, also studied commerce but his career took him down a different path.

"He came at it from a trading and execution background that was 100% focused on macro investing, and I came at finance from almost the opposite end, from a very fundamental equity perspective," Alastair says.

After working as an accountant for a number of years, the thirst for adventure set in, and the brothers' paths were set to cross on the international stage.

"Andrew had been in Hong Kong and I was trying to get to Jakarta but, at that point in 1998, it was the Asian Financial Crisis.  So, I decided to try for London.  It was just fortuitous that Andrew had enough of Hong Kong and was heading over there as well," he says.

Their reunion only lasted a couple of years before Alastair was jumping on another flight.

"In my experience, it's all well and good to read about things and read about the theory, but I have to experience it," he says.

"I have to try it.  I was covering media when I was doing equity research, and a lot of the media companies were based in New York..."

"It was just a dream; I wanted to live there and absorb it.  So, an opportunity came up to move and I took it.  I lived there for seven years.  I think that it's the best city in the world.  It was a fantastic experience."

The brothers remained close despite their distance, which Alastair attributes to their upbringing and the fact that they're so close in age.  Alastair is only two years older than Andrew.

Growing up in Queensland gave them both an unrelenting desire to travel, Alastair explained, but also a longing to return home.

"I think if you grow up a Queenslander, it's a very different DNA in terms of your lifestyle.  You get to a point where you just want to go home," he says.

"[Andrew] had been away 20 years, and I had been away 20 years, when we both decided to head home.  That is when we said; 'actually, you know, I think there is an opportunity for a business that's focused on both of our skill sets'.  And that is when we decided to get together and set something up."

Even though they ended their international adventures, the MacLeod brothers are doing anything but taking it easy.  The two are currently training for a triathlon that they compete in together every year.

Despite the competition Alastair said any signs of sibling rivalry were quashed when they were kids: "There was a tipping point when I was maybe 12 or 13 when I realised I wouldn't be winning anymore."

"We recently had an arm wrestle in front of the kids and he cleaned me up.

"He is a bit bigger than me, even though he is my baby brother, so that certainly keeps me in line."

Despite all their similarities, it is their differences that help them run a business.

"He has his area of strengths and I have mine, so we respect each other's competencies.  That's the same with Sam as well; we all bring something different to the business," he says.

"Maybe if there was more of a cross over there might be more arguments but for a working relationship perspective, it works very well."

It is clear Alastair is a passionate person, whether it is about his work or his life now that he is settled back home in Queensland.

"It is a different lifestyle, and now I am of the viewpoint that I just want to be near the beach.  I've sort of been there, done that.  Now, from a life perspective, I'm the happiest being near the water," he says.

Four days a week are dedicated to his local Aussie Rules club, coaching his kids AFL teams. In summer, most weekends are spent at the beach.

"My absolute joy is kite-surfing, and the Sunshine Coast is fantastic for that.  There is a 10 kilometre stretch of ocean and if you catch the wind you can go the whole 10kms down the beach, then roll up your kite, jump on the bus that takes you back up-wind and then you go and do it again, just like a chairlift into the wind.  It's an absolute joy," he says.

When it comes to work, excellence is key.

Alastair recalls one of the most defining moments in his career when he was living in England, saying:"I went into a big fund in London and pitched what I wanted to do.  I got really chewed out and I learnt some lessons."

He left the meeting and headed straight for a pub in Primrose Hill, called The Engineer. Instead of drowning his sorrows he made a list of everything that he knew he was good at.  Then, he picked out the things that, although he was good at, he was not going to be the best at.

"You can't be excellent at everything.  You need to pick something that is your special thing, and that's what our whole business is built around," he says.

"I thought if I'm going to launch a business it has to be just the things that we are excellent at."

Now, as managing director of Wheelhouse Investment Partners, a boutique asset manager delivering derivative-based solutions to improve investment outcomes for retirees, it seems as though that mission is complete.

"I don't know how many brothers there are in business together but it is a very good working relationship.  We are very close so, even though it may be a bit unusual, it just seems to work very well," he says.

"I think because his area of specialty is different to mine, we can respect each other for that.  I respect his strengths... literally!" fs

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