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Fowler toasts Sohn legacy

Glenda Korporaal
The Australian
Jan 25, 2024
Guy Fowler & Chris Cuffe. Picture: Adam Yip

In 2016 a group of three friends in the Sydney business community, then UBS chief executive Matthew Grounds, UBS chair of investment banking, Guy Fowler, and businessman Gary Weiss started the Australian version of the New York based Sohn conference.

Weiss had come back from a visit to the US, having seen the Sohn conference which was set up in 2006 in honour of the late Ira Sohn, a fund manager who died of cancer in his twenties, to raise money for cancer research.

The conference saw people pay thousands of dollars to hear a group of fund managers donating their time to give a stock tip.

Grounds, Fowler, and Weiss set up the Australian version, the Sohn Hearts & Minds conference in 2016, with the first meeting at the Sydney Opera House.

The conference has gone from strength to strength, raising many millions of dollars for medical research charities such as the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Once the conference got going, Fowler had the idea of setting up a fund which could invest in the stock tips from the fund managers.

Set up in 2018, the Sohn Hearts and Minds Investment company, which is now listed on the ASX, supplements the revenue from the $3,500 a head conferences with some $8m a year from its earnings.

In total, the conferences and the fund have seen more than $65m going to medical research charities since 2016.

Fowler, who is now executive chair of investment bank Barrenjoey Capital Partners, has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in this year’s Australia Day honours for his “service to business and the community”.

“Our conference was unashamedly a copy of the Sohn conference in New York,” Fowler said in an interview with The Australian.

“It was my idea to do the fund to invest in the stocks which were being pitched at the conference. They were good ideas.

“It was an easy way for people to invest in ideas which were pitched at the conference without having to buy 20 different stocks.

“We said just buy this one … we raised about half a billion dollars.”

Managers investing the fund donate their services for free, with the money which would have been paid to investment managers going to medical research charities.

Fowler said the conference and the fund have helped to back some important medical research charities.

“Some of the medical research stories you hear at the conference absolutely blow your mind.

“It is absolutely extraordinary the research which is being done, including into cancer and depression.”

Mr Fowler said the Sohn Hearts & Minds conference was now a part of the annual corporate calendar in Australia, with the next event being held in Adelaide in November.

He said people were prepared to pay several thousand dollars to attend the annual conference because they felt they got value for money in listening to the ideas of world ranking fund managers which have included the late Charlie Munger, who appeared two years ago by video.

He said the establishment of the investment fund had been able to “supercharge” the earnings from the conference and deliver significantly more money for the medical research charities.

Asked his view of the outlook for investment banking in 2024, Mr Fowler said last year was a time when it was “tricky” to get deals done.

He said he didn’t see the outlook for IPOs this year “turning around too quickly”.

But, he said he felt there was a bit more activity around this year.

“Everyone talks up their own book, but it does feel like there is a bit of activity around.

“It doesn’t feel as bad as everyone says.

“Last year it was tricky to get things done, but there are still things happening and there still seems to be a reasonable level of activity about.”

This article was originally posted by The Australian here.

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