Walk outside MTAA House in Canberra, look to the left, and you are rewarded with a pretty good view of the flags flying on Capitol Hill. But it’s not just location that Australia’s Parliament House and 39 Brisbane Avenue, Barton, have in common. The most important man in both buildings seems to be a control freak. In Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s case, the autocratic tendencies reveal themselves in a prodigious work ethic, which sees him micromanage the release of announcements at the same rate he burns out ministerial staff. Down the road, Michael Delaney is in the unique position of having created the two organsiations which take up all of level 3 at MTAA House – the Motor Trades Association of Australia (MTAA Ltd), and its associated industry superannuation fund, MTAA Super. At the time of writing, he remained the executive director of the former, and principal executive officer of the latter. According to those who’ve been on the boards of either or both over the years, there’s not much that goes on in this House which the boss doesn’t know about, either.
Domineering leadership isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Kevin Rudd’s single-mindedness got him elected Prime Minister, after all, although the extent of his achievement since then is a vexed question. Michael Delaney’s omnipresence over all things MTAA, meanwhile, unambiguously helped MTAA Super become one of Australia’s most decorated superannuation funds. It was SuperRatings’ Fund of The Year in 2005, and also wears the “7 Year Platinum Performance” designation from Jeff Bresnahan’s organisation. Rainmaker’s SelectingSuper ratings agency gave the fund its top gong in 2008, while in 2006 the then-deputy executive director of the fund, Paul Watson, took out the Fund Executive Association’s annual award – the first and still only non-CEO to do so. In an industry straitened by fear of doing anything different, Delaney had the guts and the power to make MTAA Super’s investment strategy truly stand out from the pack. In 1995, he convinced his Canberra neighbours, Access Economics, to enter the asset consulting business.
Working with David Chessell, MTAA Super was the first to implement what’s now known across the industry as the ‘Access approach’ – a default investment option with a strategic allocation of up to 50 per cent unlisted assets, mostly infrastructure and direct property, and the remainder listed assets managed on a low-cost enhancedindex basis. It’s a genuinely innovative asset allocation, which for many years had MTAA Super sitting on top of the performance surveys. The fund was also out there on its own in 2009, losing 25 per cent in its default option, although the history is strong enough that it still ranks 13th out of 50 balanced funds in SuperRatings’ 10-year survey. Most of its underlying assets are sound – a few bad US port plays are outweighed by a bluechip collection of Australian ports, airports and government-tenanted buildings – and with post-crisis tweaking which has included the reintroduction of bonds to Access-advised portfolios, and the introduction of active currency management, there is no reason to say MTAA Super cannot reign supreme in the performance stakes again.