Father-daughter duo on legacy and leadership

Monday, 01 April 2024

John Burfitt

    Former Macquarie Bank executive Bill Moss AO and his Boston Global Group executive director daughter Natalie Cooney MAICD work hand in hand at the FSHD Global Research Foundation. 

    There was a day in her final year of school that Natalie Cooney MAICD will never forget, for the lesson it provided about the reality of having financial statesman Bill Moss AO for a father.

    In early 2007, Moss announced his retirement from Macquarie Bank after 22 years, during which time he had managed as much as $50b of global investments and assets.

    “I can still recall walking through the school corridors that day, while other students held up newspapers with the stories about Dad and pointing at me,” says Cooney, executive director of the Moss family company Boston Global Group. “Looking back, that day was important as it was a taste of the whole nepotism accusations that I have sometimes faced since. It was also the wake-up call that if I really wanted to succeed in business, then I would have to do so on my own merits and make my own name.”

    It also confirmed just how important her father — who had been an adviser to prime ministers, premiers and financial chiefs — was. “I always knew Dad was a banker, but when I was a kid, I thought he was a teller in a bank,” she says. “I had little idea of what he did.”

    Moss retired from Macquarie prematurely at age 51, due to ailing health as he battled the muscle- wasting disease facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD). In his “retirement”, he launched Boston Management. The father-and-daughter pair have spent much of the past decade working together at the company, which specialises in property, structured finance, health and science investment. Boston Global is a true family business, with Moss the founder and chair, and Cooney’s husband, Corey Cooney, the group managing director.

    The pair also work closely on the FSHD Global Research Foundation, the charity that since 2007 has committed over $22m to fund ongoing medical research. Cooney, 35, took over as the foundation chair from her father about two years ago. “I feel such a responsibility with this that if we don’t activate solutions and therapies, his life might end sooner than it should.”

    It’s something of an understatement, says Moss, to suggest the role of father and daughter has evolved in dramatic ways across the years. The woman he now sits across the boardroom table from is a world away from the little girl who years ago would visit his office during school holidays and complete colouring-in books on his desk.

    “I thought integrating your children into your business life created a closer bond and some understanding of what was going on outside the school curriculum,” says Moss. “I did this with both my children [his son, Stephen, is the founder of the crypto investor company Bullion FX] but I never tried to convince either of them to take a particular course in business. It was their choice.”

    At the University of Sydney, Cooney studied business, law and arts, but upon graduating became involved in marketing and charity roles, creating her own organisation, Champagne for Charity, which raised about $1m for overseas aid and causes including domestic abuse survivors.

    Readymade mentor

    Her father might have been one of the most successful business leaders in the country, but Cooney initially looked elsewhere for a mentor. “I wanted a female mentor who could offer insights of how a woman negotiates her way through business, but when I did contact one woman, it just didn’t click,” she says. “Dad wasn’t an option, as I figured we were too alike. That’s when a friend said, ‘You need a mentor to find you’. It turned out that Bill had been my mentor all along.”

    Despite any concerns, it turned out their similarities helped make the mentorship work. “We have the same way of thinking in which we know every question has multiple options,” she says.

    As Moss explains, all he intended was to offer his daughter sound advice in her ventures. “I never saw it as mentoring, more as educating and helping out with business basics. One early lesson was that she needed to understand accounting. Another was about picking her clients carefully, as credibility is everything. We’ve also spoken about analysing what drives social trends.”

    Cooney set up event management business ZMM Group in 2009 and, at the same time, consulted to Boston Management, which she became more involved with over the following years.

    In 2016, Boston Global launched, but it was two years before, in 2014, when she became managing director of the FSHD Foundation, that she knew a shift had taken place in the dynamics with her father and his business.

    “I felt That I had earned that role as I had taken on a fundraising project in which I guaranteed I would raise $1m, but instead raised $2m within a few months,” she says. “I felt the respect of the board in seeing that while I might be Bill’s daughter, I was my own person.”

    Moss has looked on with pride in the boardroom as his daughter deftly negotiates multimillion-dollar projects alongside a range of team members. “I’m happy every time I go to a meeting as she is so impressive,” he says. “I sometimes find myself listening to her, thinking, ‘Who is this person?’ She is so strong and can work with people at all levels.”

    Cooney adds that recently, when she has asked his advice on an issue, Bill has said, “No, you’ve got this”. She says the brakes have come off, but the support is still there if she needs it.

    Gradual succession

    Managing family connections with business dynamics — Cooney is also among her dad’s team of carers — can be a juggling act. She says her father’s motto has always been, “My life is my family, my business is my family, my family is my business”.

    “He’s never had a filter between family and work,” says Cooney. “Every time I pop in, it’s like an informal board meeting, so you never really get to tune out. Somehow, it just works for us.”

    These days, Moss requires around-the-clock care as his health continues to falter, even though he continues to work in excess of 40 hours a week. The situation has required Moss and Cooney to have upfront conversations about what the future might hold.

    “The worst thing you would want is to not be prepared when something changes in a family business and there is a generational handing over,” says Cooney. “Dad has said to me, ‘When I’m not here, this is the situation and I want you to be across everything’. He is bringing me into the epicentre of the business so that he knows I will not be left in the dark. With Bill, we just never know with this disease, so we don’t waste time. It’s about maximising all our opportunities together.”

    As he hands over the reins a little more each year, Moss admits he does so with reassurance that his daughter is well equipped to call the shots.

    “Natalie in business is strong and firm, but always fair, so she has all the right human characteristics to succeed,” says Moss. “But what’s unique is her insatiable appetite to learn.” 

    This article first appeared under the headline 'Legacy and Leadership’ in the April 2024 issue of Company Director magazine.  

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