5 Minutes with Lachlan Baird, CEO of Prime Super

You are known as an adrenalin junkie, tell us what are some of your wildest adventures and why?

The wildest adventure we had was when we trekked coast to coast across Costa Rica. We had a few hair-raising experiences like the time we were cycling along the Pan American Highway. We were nearly taken out about three times by massive trucks.

On the same trip, we trekked through the jungle and our guide go

t lost. We had to use machetes to hack our way down to the river bed, to try and find the campsite. This detour took around two hours and we had already been hiking for four days. It was a lot of fun.

Another adventure was when I took the family – my wife and three children with the youngest around 12 – hiking the Inca trail; all of us at the highest point of 4,215 metres was a great moment. I’ll never forget the journey up to the Dead Woman’s Pass – I almost didn’t come home married!

Have you always been an adrenalin junkie?

I’ve always been keen for adventure and exploring, but it wasn’t until a group of my friends and I turned 40 and we thought we should be out doing stuff before we get too old and can’t do what we want to do. Now every second year, we go on an adventure. We’ve been on six different expeditions. Last year we went dog sledding in Lapland.

Are most people shocked to learn that you work in superannuation during the week and jump out of planes on weekends?

Most people are a little surprised, but then I’ve always been a bit different. I have different taste in music. I really like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and a lot of new stuff like Amon Amarth out of Sweden. I don’t set out to be different, I’m just being myself.

What was the last book you read and what did you take away from it?

I love reading. The last book I read was Darwinism by Andreas Wagner, which looks at the survival of the fittest and how we all started. I loved the science behind it and how he drew information from the numbers, while looking at chance interaction, driving change and inevitable variability.

How does someone with a degree in chemical engineering end up the CEO of one of Australia’s leading super funds?

I also have an accounting degree. My first job was with KPMG when superannuation had just started out as an industry. I really stumbled across it and because no one was really interested in it at the time, I thought it was something I wanted to look into more. I think my science/engineering background allows me to look differently at the industry and provide real value. I really enjoy the industry and that’s the key to working anywhere. You have to enjoy it to make a difference.

Have you found many similarities between chemical engineering and superannuation?

Yes, actually I think they are very similar. It’s in the way you approach it. The way you approach superannuation is very similar to how you approach a problem in engineering. Having a good understanding of science and maths helps and you will find many from the finance world have a scientific background.

What appeals to you about the superannuation industry?

At the risk of sounding simple, it’s a good industry, which does good. It’s genuinely about helping people accumulate enough money to provide an income stream in their retirement. Our purpose is a good purpose. The industry is always developing and it’s still a relatively new industry. I find that exciting.

Originally a farmer’s fund, Prime Super has evolved over the years under your leadership. What is your primary focus now and why?

When I first joined I realised it was going to be hard to grow the company if we stayed in one area. I wanted to broaden our exposure, so we expanded into the broader rural and regional areas.

With the addition of health and community services to the Fund in 2014, which is the largest employment sector in regional Australia, this helped us grow into a strong multi-industry fund, and gives us strength for the future. We were excited to partner with RCSA last year, which allows us to work hand-in-hand with the recruitment and staffing sector to help workers make informed decisions around superannuation.

Since becoming RCSA’s Principal Partner last year you have been more involved in the industry; what do you feel are the biggest challenges for members and why?

The key topic that keeps coming up in my discussions with members is the changing face of work. We are seeing more and more people moving away from full-time roles to part-time and consulting work. Not long ago it wasn’t uncommon for a person to work full-time for a company for 20 to 30 years; now they can have 10 careers in a lifetime. As the gig economy and the way we work change, there becomes a high risk of people not contributing enough to fund their retirement.

What’s in store for the second half of 2018 for you and the team?

This is going to be a big year for us. We have four different reviews happening, including the Royal Commission and Productivity Commission Review, which are all very fundamental to our industry. We are also really excited to grow our relationship with RCSA members and look at how we can best support the industry and their needs.

Who would you invite to a dinner party and what would you serve?

I would invite my mates I go on adventures with each year and I would take them trekking somewhere around North Africa, with just a tent and we would eat whatever was available, could be guinea pig or puffin, and just chat. These are the best experiences.

Originally published in Autumn edition of The Brief magazine. To keep up to date, make sure you subscribe to The Brief by clicking here.

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