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Paradice and Lew on their love of medical research – and Greece

Jemima Whyte
The Australian Financial Review
Nov 3, 2023

The Australian Financial Review’s Related Parties column will document the lesser known and more personal connections between the country’s prominent business figures. Solomon Lew, the billionaire retailer, has known David Paradice, the high-profile fund managers, for years. Beyond investing, they share a common interest in medical research – and holidaying in Greece.

Solomon Lew: I’ve known David for about 25 years. He has always struck me as extremely competent, accredited fund manager with great principles. And it reminds me of Columbo, that TV series, the guy in the raincoat with the newspaper. He’s always got the killer question.

David has always been a very charitable individual. He’s always front and centre. David is no piker. He’s right there. He’s the type of fellow that you can bring along, he doesn’t need a lot of convincing. David knows right from wrong and is an individual with a big heart.

We were in one of the [Greek] islands, and we were going to dinner. He says, “we’re never going to be able to cross this road. It’s terrible. It’s shocking. There are no lights, motorbikes screaming everywhere.”

I said: “David, there’s one way to get across this particular roadway. We’re going to walk across this. The only thing I can offer you then is I can offer you to hop on my back. But that’s going to cost you $100,000 for the Peter McCallum [Cancer Centre]. And if you are prepared to hop on my back and prepared to commit, I’ll take you across the road.”

People were honking and this and that. Anyhow, we got to the other side of the road. And 10 days later, there was a cheque sitting in my office to pass on to pay the McCallum Cancer Institute for $100,000.

David and I are very proud of the fact that I offered he accepted. I was a man of my word I carried him across, and he was very much a man of his word. But I’ve never told Peter Mac how I got the $100,000.

The causes I’m most interested in are medical research and education. I’ve got a philosophy that you don’t take anything with you other than your good name that you can leave behind. We’ve got that philosophy in our family and I teach the next generation and hopefully, the generation after that understand their obligation.

As soon as the three musketeers [Guy Fowler, Matthew Grounds and Gary Weiss] spoke to me I said ‘stop’. They said ‘we haven’t finished’. And I said, ‘I’m in’. We invested $10 million in Sohn Hearts and Minds. So substantial enough for a young fellow like me.

I also was prepared to get up in the audience [at the conference] put my hand up and then bring people with me. That happened right from the start. And it made a difference. There was a good coterie of people, and we were all there for the right cause. There are too few involved in the causes.

Some of the donations [from the Lew Foundation] are anonymous. It depends if they need our name, to be able to raise more money, right? If there are leadership donors who are already committed to that cause, then they don’t need my name.

Since I’ve been a public company director, which is since the early 80s, I have never taken a director’s fee. I’ve asked the company donate the money to charity. As a director and chairman of public companies, I have never allowed the company to donate money. It’s not a privilege of the board to be able to give shareholder money away. The shareholders, once they receive their dividends, it’s their prerogative. I’m sure that many do that [donate].

I don’t believe that it’s a board’s responsibility to be able to pick one charity over another because it’s such a diverse group of investors in a company. The company doesn’t belong to the directors. In some cases, the directors might not even be shareholders.

David Paradice: Solly is very focused and targeted. He’s just a phenomenal retailer. There’s a lot of humility with him. He makes plenty of decisions. He’s a tough businessman but retailing’s a tough gig. We do catch up a lot and I do enjoy spending time with him because he gets you thinking and challenging.

We’ve known each other for quite a long period of time. We were both investors in Breville and [Paradice Investment Management] were early investors in [Lew-backed] Premier Investments as well. Breville was getting taken over, Solly had a fairly big shareholding, and we had a reasonable shareholding and between us, we blocked them.

When David Jones wasn’t going that well and Mark McInnes had just started and Solly and I were chatting about it, he suggested we have a look at it. So we did some work and we invested. So we’ve done very well out of him. He’s a great businessman and a great retailer. He’s in the weeds.

I remember coming back from the airport, and it was 8 o’clock on a Friday. Colette Garnsey used to run fashion [at Premier] for him. I was in the car with her getting a lift, and he was calling her up seeing how the day’s sales had gone, the week’s sales had gone. That was 8 o’clock on a Friday.

We’ve done a lot of business together, and he’s interested in people. He’s not aloof at all.

He got me into the Peter McCallum Institute. We were in Greece, and he was trying to get me donate some money. So I said, ‘well, if you give me a piggyback across the road I will’. Or maybe he said he’d give me a piggyback. I knew I was going to donate the money anyway, so I thought that I might as well get an amazing photo out of it.

We’ve donated quite a bit through Sohn Hearts and Minds. I didn’t realise the effect it has had until [Black Dog] wrote me a letter in October.

I just know a lot of people who have suffered from mental health and when Matty [Grounds] called me I happened to be going through the Fin Review. He asked me what charity, I was reading something and a brochure fell out of the AFR, and it was Black Dog. And that’s how Black Dog was included.

No, there’s no more trips to Greece planned!

The Financial Review is a partner for Sohn Hearts & Mind, which will be held on November 17 at the Sydney Opera House. Tickets are on sale now.

This article was originally posted by The Australian Financial Review here.

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