‘Nothing’s far from home’: New Morrison & Co boss Paul Newfield targets global infrastructure dominance

Australian dollars in Sydney, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING

A philosophy graduate who led Morrison & Co’s expansion across the Tasman says the asset manager wants to be as big in the Northern Hemisphere as the South by the time he leaves.

On Wednesday Paul Newfield was announced as Morrison & Co’s third chief executive in 33 years, replacing Marko Bogoievski from the start of 2022.

Bogoievski, who joined the Wellington-based manager from Spark, had headed Morrison & Co since 2009 when its founder stepped back due to ill health. He will continue to have a role with the business.

Newfield, who has spent most of the past decade based in Sydney as its head of New Zealand and Australia said the aim was to become the global leader in its field.

“Our plan is for Morrison & Co to be the global leader in infrastructure and for the Northern Hemisphere to be as big as the Southern Hemisphere by the time I hand over,” Newfield said.

Generally low profile, Morrison & Co is best known in New Zealand as the manager of Infratil, the $5 billion NZX-listed fund which owns a range of assets from data centres to a majority of Wellington Airport and Trustpower and half of Vodafone New Zealand.

Morrison & Co said on Wednesday it now managed $21.5 billion, up from around $2.9b when Bogoievski became its chief executive.

Around 10 per cent of the company’s assets were currently in the Northern Hemisphere and while the focus was further afield, it would continue to try to grow in Australasia, Newfield said.

“We’d like, as Marko would say, ‘to walk and chew gum [at the same time]’. So I think Australia and New Zealand will keep growing, but there’s a lot more growth potential for us in the UK, Europe, America and Asia.”

The types of areas Morrison & Co would look to invest in were unlikely to change, but would probably be more narrow than its Australasian investments, which range from property and airports to data centres and telecommunications businesses.

“While we can play pretty broadly at home, given all our home field advantages, the further we get from home, the more we focus on areas where we’re the best in the world,” Newfield said. “That means decarbonisation, renewable energy, digital infrastructure.”

Morrison & Co was likely to continue to seek out local partners to invest alongside in the Northern Hemisphere.When the company looked for new investments in Australia for Infratil a decade ago “we worked out that Infratil could be more successfulwhen it had Australian institutions investing alongside it, so I expect a continuation of that as we get to the Northern Hemisphere.”

There were no plans on creating another listed vehicle like Infratil.

“That’s not on the cards at the moment. Infratil is a great vehicle. It’s delivered outstanding returns for its investors over a long period of time and those investors have had a good experience by backing Morrison & Co as we’ve gone into new places.”

Morrison & Co would continue to work with the board of Infratil to deliver for the fund but “in terms of other products from Morrison & Co, most of the demand that we see from institutions at the moment is actually for unlisted, rather than listed, funds to invest in infrastructure”.

'I never had a career plan'

Newfield studied philosophy at the University of Auckland – his masters thesis was Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Love – before completing a master of philosophy in management at the University of Cambridge, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar.

“I would never say it in a job interview, but I’ve got the job now. I’ve never really had a great career plan. I studied philosophy because I like the way it stretched my brain.”

After university he joined Boston Consulting Group working in “M&A and corporate finance assignments for major corporations in Australia, New Zealand and Europe”, a profile supplied by Morrison & Co states.

While there, a former colleague from Boston Consulting who had joined Morrison & Co, Rachel Drew, suggested he meet Lloyd Morrison, the charismatic founder.

“I had one coffee with him and he said, ‘oh, you should think about coming to work with me. If you don’t, you’re an idiot’, and the deal was done.”

Newfield believed Morrison & Co still had some of the original characteristics ingrained by its founder, who died in 2012.

“What Lloyd exuded was the sense of unlimited potential. If you back yourself and you back your colleagues, you can take on the world.

“If you think about Marko’s era, that’s what we’ve done. We got into Australia, we backed ourselves and we’ve taken on and beaten that market, and that’s exactly what we’re doing now in North America with businesses like Longroad [Energy], it’s exactly what we’re doing in Europe.”

It is not the first time Morrison & Co has targeted Europe though its efforts have not always been successful, losing heavily on investments in European airports.

Newfield said the asset manager had learned much from the deal and had a different approach to investing internationally.

“Nothing’s far from home for us anymore,” Newfield said, with the European Airports investment “a deal we did, fly in, fly out” transaction.

“Now, our boots are on the ground in the markets we operate in. We’ve got great teams that are a mixture of people we’ve transferred, who are really entrenched in our culture, then hire the best people in each market. I think we’ve got all the right ingredients.”

Newfield said Infratil’s move into Australia showed what could be done, claiming Morrison & Co was now dominant in that market.

“If you look at the stats now, we’re actually bigger in terms of people and capital Macquarie are in Australia [in infrastructure]. In the last six months, I just looked at the league tables, Morrison & Co was in five of the seven largest infrastructure deals in Australia. Macquarie did two and the rest of our competition were nowhere.

“We’ve proven we can succeed well away from home.”

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