Mark McConnell is a little different to most private equity entrepreneurs in that he isn’t as keen to “flip” investments – he prefers to stay involved once he has taken an interest.
He has just turned 40 and credits his success to his early RAAF career and a willingness to work hard when he was younger. He has an estimated net wealth of $24 million, according to BRW, and tells us how he made those millions.
How did you get started?
I guess I was always pretty keen on business. I joined the RAAF when I was 16 but we had a small property development company when I was still at uni. We were buying land, building two or three townhouses. The company grew quickly and we sold it to take profits. I used some of those proceeds to go into some technology companies.
Tell us about some of the companies you invest in
Uber Global, it’s Australia’s fastest-growing web services firm and the third-largest in its space. I’ve been involved in that one for five years as chair/investor; they actually found me in the paper.
As a 16-year-old, the founder of the company came knocking on my door and I was blown away with how well he could articulate his strategy. It has literally gone from his bedroom to 80 staff, offices in Australia and overseas, federal and big corporate clients in seven years.
Citadel, it’s grown from zero to $70 million to $80 million over the past seven years and that includes the [global financial crisis period]. I represent a controlling interest of 51 per cent on behalf of myself and foreign high net-worth individuals. My role there is to go and find investment capital.
What is the link between the RAAF and your entrepreneurial interests?
There is an interesting link because I went from the air force into aviation mergers and acquisitions. I used that network to assist a number of Chinese high net-worth individuals ... that introduced me into a number of government departments in China.
We’ve assisted a number of Chinese government entities with inbound mining investment, including in Mungana Goldmines.
I sit on the boards of several listed mining companies including Mungana. My firm, First Bridge Capital, raised approximately half of the IPO funds for Mungana in 2010 and I am now executive director.
How important is skin in the game?
You back yourself. Without sounding trite, you back your own investment. And while I’m young enough to start again, I’m very happy to pour capital into projects that I’m involved in. Why would I go to a broker or fund manager where I’m three or four steps removed from what’s happening at the coal face? When I’m 50 or 60 I might have a relationship with one because I won’t want to work.
But for now it’s an absolute honour to be involved in some of these companies with young entrepreneurs. It helps to keep them in Australia.
Has youth been an important factor in your success?
Absolutely, there is no way I would have taken the risks today that I would have 10 or 20 years ago. All I appreciated when I was 25 was that I lived in a country where if you work you get paid but if you work harder you get paid more. We were never at home.
When I say “we”, I mean with the gracious support of my wife, Bryony. We were out there building relationships. If I hadn’t done it then I probably wouldn’t have done it. From very early on we did the hard yards. From the moment we left the RAAF we were working 100 hours a week and we were young enough that we could take high risks.
You go out seeking risks others have abandoned. You run a number of opportunities at the same time, knowing some things will fall over but if half of them don’t you’re in front.