Leo Barry and Ted Richards have much in common, more than being legends of the Sydney Swans Football Club.
Both have won a coveted AFL flag: Barry in 2005, when he famously soared higher than three West Coast Eagles in the final seconds to take a marvellous mark and secure a four-point win. The catch broke a 72-year premiership drought stretching back to the bloods of South Melbourne.
Richards, who joined the Swans the following year, played in the 2012 premiership-winning team that triumphed over Hawthorn by ten points in a grand final considered one of the greatest for its sheer intensity.
Barry and Richards, both defenders, also tasted the bitterness of grand final defeat; a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Eagles in 2006. Both are members of the Swans Hall of Fame (Barry played 237 games, eight more than Richards).
Similarities extend beyond the field: post-footy, both have established high-flying careers in finance. They say there are many parallels between AFL and working in financial markets.
“Professional sport and investment management are highly competitive fields, where the difference between outperformance and underperformance – or winning and losing – can be down to a couple of points and the smallest of edges,” Richards says.
Before the blockbuster Sydney versus Geelong game on Saturday afternoon – both teams are on extraordinary winning streaks and meet in a grand final for the first time – Barry and Richards spoke to AFR Weekend about preparing for the final game of the season, their memories of the contest, and what makes the Swans’ culture special. They also offer insights on how playing elite sport has helped them succeed as stockbrokers and fund managers.
As the current Swans enjoy the traditional grand final parade on Friday morning, including a punt down the Yarra, Richards, who played in three, says enjoying the special atmosphere is important but so is remaining focused on the main game. “I remember the constant focus, shifting from enjoying the week to ensuring what needs to be done when the game happens and being ready to go.”
Barry says it is hard to avoid the distraction of grand final week “but the ability to block out some noise, and try to limit some nervous energy, is the key to any preparation”.
Leaping Leo remains “extremely proud” of his heroics to win in 2005; the only thing on his mind, as the Sherrin flew towards the box, was grabbing it and not letting go. “The moment can’t be underestimated. It had been 72 years. To finish with that, in that part of the game, is something I am really proud of. It was an amazing day.”
Seven years later, Richards recalls the pure joy of Nick Malceski snapping the winning goal with 30 seconds left in 2012 and jumping on him. “Footy is a team sport and when I think back to that grand final, I have the happiest memories of celebrating the success with some of my best mates in life.”
Realising any football career can be fleeting, Barry and Richards had the foresight to study business degrees at the University of NSW, just up the road from the Sydney Cricket Ground, during their playing days.
Before that, both had been educated by the Jesuits: Barry at St Ignatius at Riverview (where the Swans sent him after he was drafted from the Riverina area of NSW as a year 11 student before debuting in year 12); and Richards at Xavier College in Melbourne.
Seizing the moment
When both were members of the All Australian team, they seized an opportunity to work at Citi, a major sponsor of the Swans. Barry later excelled at investment bank Merrill Lynch before flipping to the buy side; he is now portfolio manager at small-cap investor Fairview Equity Partners.
Richards worked alongside market legend John Sevior at Airlie Funds Management, spent four years at robo-adviser Six Park, and joined stockbroker Wilsons last year. Both are now based in Melbourne, at the MCG end of the city.
Barry, who got an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management while a Swan, says footy skills help a lot in business, especially discipline, and the ability to clearly communicate. Meeting CEOs of small-cap companies is “such an interesting job” and he is pleased with his fund’s performance.
“We are seeing fantastic opportunities with the recent sell-off and have taken the opportunity to invest in high-quality businesses whose valuations were a bit high before it,” he says.
Richards, who earned a Bachelor of Commerce and Masters of Applied Finance while playing for the Swans, joined Wilsons in July last year to oversee its digital strategy. He was promoted to head of the Melbourne office in May where he runs a team of 30, including ten advisers, and is looking to hire more.
“People expect quality digital experiences and private wealth is no different, from onboarding to the platform, and the shift has only been increasing. That is why I came across, and I really enjoy it,” he says.
Both seek to apply the culture of the Swans in business. Barry points to the long association of John “Horse” Longmire, who worked as an assistant coach under his predecessor Paul Roos, in highlighting the value of a stable coaching staff and administration, along with focus on the team above all else.
“There is a blueprint of expectations for every new player who comes into the footy club that no individual player is bigger than the broader group,” says Barry, who is now on the Swans board.
Richards says many sport teams, like businesses, consider culture to be something “nice to have, not a need to have – but that is not the case at the Swans”.
“They invest time in culture year after year,” he says. “I won’t pretend it is easy. Many uncomfortable conversations are had throughout the season. But culture is not assumed: a lot of time is put into it. And it is not about someone from marketing sticking up some mantra; the players and the people come up with it, and own it and that is important.”
Lessons from the field
Richards is applying other lessons from football to help Wilsons’ navigate the volatile financial markets of the past couple of years. “It reconfirms and reiterates the importance of having a plan and not wavering from the plan. That is a skill I bring from football that I speak to our advisers about,” he says.
“The importance of having the game plan and a real focus on people and culture is so important for both industries. You are not going to win everything or get every decision right. So, you have to have a level of resilience when times get tough – and we have seen that with the best football teams and the best fund managers and investment advisers this year.”
There’s one more similarity between the two men: both will be at the MCG on Saturday afternoon, to cheer, cheer the red and the white.
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