Paul Galea and Damon Petrie (2003)

IGS Director of Advancement talks food, equity, environment and IGS with Alum and current parent Damon Petrie (2003).


Damon Petrie (2003)

Paul Galea: Damon; Paul Galea from International Grammar. How are you going, mate?

Damon: I’m well, thanks, Paul. How are you?

Paul Galea: I’m good, mate. I’m good. So, really nice to talk to you, mate. And just wanting to know, well, first of all, when did you leave IGS? And then give us a little bit of a rundown on what you’re doing now. And then I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about how you actually got there So you can start talking, mate. I’ll be quiet and listen.

Damon: That’s good. Thanks, Paul. So I left IGS in 2003. Graduated Year 12 in that year and now I am working for a UK-based private equity fund. We invest in sustainable companies that are driving change in how we produce and consume food.

Paul Galea: So tell us a little bit more about that? Because that sounds quite interesting because that’s a little bit left of centre.  I’m interested in knowing a bit about the sort of things you’re doing.

Damon: Yeah, sure. Well, I guess it depends on what you read, but food and food production is responsible for somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. And, the way the world currently produces food is something we need to change, particularly in accordance, with taking into consideration, the amount of population growth and the transition from middle to high income and low income to middle income that’s occurring in developed countries and developing countries. So as the world needs to produce more food, we need to be able to do it more sustainably. I guess you could say that the job I work in is about allocating capital to those companies that are really shifting the needle in how we produce food more sustainably.

Paul Galea: Okay, so obviously, this is a very, very, very important and also very topical thing that you’re doing because, as we know, climate change and, well, food production, as well, are massive issues for the world at the moment. Tell me how you’ve got to be doing this because I’m remembering you at school as a an interested student and a guy who gave everything, but I can’t remember you being particularly involved in that sort of environmental side of things. So I might be wrong. But you tell me how you ended up doing this.

Damon: Yeah, sure. Well, I was originally born up in the Hunter Valley, and my family always had pretty deep connections in the Hunter Valley wine industry. That sort of remained with me through my high school years. When I left school and after becoming a chartered accountant, where I worked for a mid-tier audit firm, I ended up actually picking up a role for a family business who are looking to build out assets in the wine industry in Australia. And so, given my sort of family background and passion for that sector, it was, and the fact that I was a chartered accountant, it was kind of a really great opportunity. I’d say that my career then followed through in the agricultural sector. I moved into another wine business out of the finance role and into a commerce role. Then I was CFO of the wine company and then moved into a meat company producing beef. It wasn’t till after that I got the opportunity to work for the firm that I’m with now, which was probably in late 2017.  I guess a lot of my personal views around sustainability had slowly been shaped obviously from the years at IGS, but also, you know, later on in life as a young adult and then as a middle aged adult, I guess. I think I’ve now developed quite a passion for that sustainability aspect. I believe that you can make sustainable companies that will be worth more than an unsustainable company. And I think it’s our responsibility to try and ensure that we are leaving the world in a better place than what we found it. So I try and follow that ethos through in my work.

Paul Galea: That’s very interesting, because one of the things that I know from my life as an old man is that, in reality, people will jump on board good causes. But you know what? There will be more readily jumping on good causes if they can make a dollar doing it. And I think the way that you’re doing looking at it in terms of making companies that are sustainable, better operators more valuable and more attractive to people to invest in is the way of the future. Just telling everyone that you’ve got to be sustainable, is just not going to work. But by developing these sorts of things, what you’re doing is actually helping in real-world terms.

Damon: Yeah, it’s a super exciting time to be involved in this market and sector. If you think about it, and following on from the points you just raised, if you think about a normal farm that’s using heavy chemicals in its production process and you work out a way to produce that same product, without using those same chemicals, whether it be those hard glyphosates or other fungicides and pesticides and you’re looking at more bio alternatives a lot of the time, these bio alternatives are cheaper. So by switching your business over, you’re actually getting an increase in profit margin and that in itself is making the business more valuable. It’s making products more appealing to a consumer, and you’re actually, in effect, lessening the risk in your company because you’ve now improved margins, which means it can cope with more shocks in the market than other businesses can. So, yeah, I think that’s the overall theme; it is that if you can produce something you can produce more with less? You’re actually going to be de-risking a company, but you’re also going to increase its value.

Paul Galea: 100 per cent. And I also think the other thing is, at some stage, probably, I would say in your lifetime, for sure, and maybe even in my lifetime, governments are going to say you’ve got no choice. You’ve got to do this. So if you jump on board early, you are probably going to be making moves that you’re going to have to make it some stage anyway. And, as you say, you’re increasing the value of your company and appealing to your customers.

Damon: Yeah, that’s right. Those changes are already pretty significant headwinds, I guess you’d call them, for traditional producers and they’re really kind of tailwinds for us when you’re ahead of that curve. So, yeah, it is happening. And it’s really being driven by your environmentally and socially conscious consumer.All these kids that you’re turning out of IGS are now sitting there and understanding the damage that things like our food are doing to the environment. And they’re wanting to purchase the foods that are healthier for them, and better for them. But that, also, are doing right by the planet.

Paul Galea: Yeah, that’s 100 per cent true. Our kids are extremely aware of those sort of issues. And it’s interesting that that’s one of the reasons I wanted to actually interview you. Now, I’m going to say this is the nicest way I know how. You never struck me as a chartered accountant type. How did you fall into that? Tell me the story there, because my very prejudiced view of chartered accountants is that they’re all boring. That was never you, mate!

Damon: Yeah, I guess, I’d have to agree with you. I think I was a little bit more on the extroverted end of the spectrum. Looking back at my life, I’m sure you’d agree with that. I mean, I spent a year or so in the Hunter Valley after school, studying and living with my godparents. And during that period, my godmother was actually an accountant, and I just really enjoyed what she was doing. I learned the other side of a vineyard. Instead of just looking at it from the operational side; the viticultural side, I guess you’d call it. I learned the other side; being the business side, and I thoroughly enjoyed how the two play together. So I switched my courses over to a business course mastering in professional accounting. And the rest was history. I ended up taking a role in this sort of mid-tier audit firm that was incredibly challenging for my type of personality. As you said, I think auditors are further up the spectrum. You know, you have to be a really specific type of individual. I worked there for five years. I feel like that was a little bit like purgatory. I earned my stripes and the first opportunity I had, I jumped ship into something that was probably a little bit more suited to my personality and my way of thinking, which has sort of been maintained the whole time. That’s largely starting my career in finance, looking at how you can invest in these assets. And it’s kind of morphed over the years to end up in a private equity fund in a hedge fund. And, yeah, it’s been pretty exciting.

Paul Galea: One of the interesting things is, you know, despite what people will try and tell you, sometimes you’ve got to put in the hard yards. You’ve got to do something that you’re not super keen on at the beginning to work your way into a position where you can do something that is going to be what you want to do. I think some of our kids and young people, think it’s all just you go and do this and it’s all hunky dory. Everything works out. I think sometimes you have got to take small steps to get where you want to go.

Damon: I’m actually a firm believer of that in my life. So I think that, yeah; if you can make the sacrifices as a young man out of school, sacrificing time out with your friends and focus on elements of your career, you might not enjoy it, but earning your stripes in a certain area that gives you a lot of discipline and focus and credibility pays immense dividends. Once you get later on in your career, it really does set you apart from the rest of the crowd. I mean, everybody these days turns around and jumps into university, and then, I guess, has the opinion that once I’ve got that degree, I can do anything. The reality is that a lot of people are finishing school and going and getting these degrees. So I think there’s an element of, you know, doing some hard yards in a company, really trying to be indispensable to that company, trying to learn as much as you possibly can, and to try and work really hard. And those learnings will be incredibly valuable as you progress through your career.

Paul Galea: Yeah, I think that’s very true. So, that’s all very interesting. What about IGS, mate? I know you speak highly of it to me “off air”. Any good memories?  Are there things you learned there that you think are holding you in good stead these days.

Damon: Oh, I think it was. It was a fantastic school, and I do think of it regularly, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be able to have gone to IGS. I think that shows, as I think I mentioned to you a few days ago, in that, Oscar, my little boy is now enrolled in Early Learning at IGS. My wife, Elena, who you know, was an ex-student at IGS as well. We’re both incredibly proud that he’s able to attend IGS. I think it’s a really good school in terms of rounding an individual.

I was much more, sort of, focused on the numbers and science elements and having a school that also provides a well rounded education in the other areas like the arts, and languages, I think, really helped me and provided me with a different perspective in life than if I had just gone to and focused on those areas that I knew I was sort of stronger at.

Paul Galea: Yeah, that’s that’s probably one of the School’s key points is that you are trying to create good people, well-rounded people, people with a bit of a global, international outlook. That and the fact that you want to send your son to the school is a pretty good testament for your feelings. Elena, I remember her very, very well. What a champion young woman. Well, what a champion woman she was in those days. And I’ve got one question. How did you catch her? You must be thanking your lucky stars every day.

Damon: Yeah, it’s quite an interesting story. So obviously at school, you know that we weren’t in a relationship. We were in a group of friends. We were friends at school and we stayed in contact after school. But as your lives get busy, you tend to lose a little bit of that contact. And it wasn’t until 2013 or 2014, that we regrouped in a getaway with a bunch of friends down in Tasmania and realised that, hang on, you’re actually quite an impressive lady. And I’m hoping she thought the same thing about me as a man and off we went. So, I like to think that maybe I was scaring her away with the God-awful haircut that I had at school! And then she saw me with a normal haircut and thought that I was an OK sort of guy!

Paul Galea: When did you get married?

Damon: We got married in 2017 and we had Oscar in 2019. So he’s three and a half now. The two of us live in Gladesville.  Elena is working in construction. She did her Masters in sustainable development. So I guess there are quite a few sort of commonalities between both of us and our focus on our careers and our focus on sustainability. Obviously, also our love for our child.

Paul Galea: That’s got to be reasonably unusual being a woman in construction.

Damon: Absolutely. I think it’s pretty rare to find a woman in construction. I think also, Paul, that she’s effectively at the top of the game. She’s in charge of a lot of your typical “big bloke males” who are in construction, and I think that’s quite interesting. She’s also vegan, so she’s fairly petite, and it’s quite a funny thing for her to walk around these sites and know more about construction than her male counterparts. I think it’s fantastic.

Paul Galea: Wow. Wow, you know what? I can see an interview in the future with her because I find that very interesting. I think even in these days, women who are making their way in, really, what’s considered a male dominated industry is very interesting. I’d be interested in her thoughts on all that. I might have to line up an interview with her. Any particular memories of things that you loved, or things that you remember or something that is fixed in your mind from your time at school?

Damon: Oh, there’s a lot, A lot of good memories from that school. I can’t specifically at this moment think of any one memory, but yeah, there are lots. I really enjoyed all the teachers. Yourself. I remember Rita Morabito.

Paul Galea: Can you believe she’s still there?

Damon: It’s incredible. Please pass on my regards. There was Maureen Gill. There are some just some really great people that I think dug up a lot of time to impart their wisdom and help sort of shape us kids into the adults we are today. And, yeah, I mean, there’s really too many specific sorts of situations to recount.

Paul Galea: Yeah, Well, that’s good, Damon. I think as long as you can look back and feel like it was a positive experience, which it’s clear that you do, you wouldn’t be sending your son to a school where you had a negative experience. All right, I often ask this. I think you sort of touched on it, but I think it’s always valuable because I get some of the kids at school to listen to the podcast. Have you got any advice for young people? You’ve already mentioned something. Any specific advice about when they leave school? Any ideas about what can help make their lives better?

Damon: Obviously, the point I raised before around you really working hard. And the sacrifices that you make as a young individual, a young person in the world will pay dividends later on in life. I think that I’m a true believer of that. The other point is, I think in theory, there’s not a lot of difference between theory but in practice there is. And so, trying to get out in the real world and learn some of these skills I think is incredibly important.

Then the other point I’d say is you don’t have to do it as a young adult, but certainly, as you get a little bit older, if you can end up finding somewhere you’re passionate about and making sure you make that change into that sector, it’s just so fulfilling to work in an area that you’re passionate about. I had no idea of what I wanted to do, probably until I was, you know, in my early thirties. And I think that’s okay because I worked really hard. I focused on my career, and as I slowly started to work it out, and I think I was probably 30, 31 when I made the change, and I guess it’s the other point coming out of this is, don’t stress that you don’t know what you want to do, but, work hard at what you’ve decided to work hard at, and it will slowly come to you about what you want to do and make that change when you work it out.‘

Paul Galea: Damon, that’s excellent advice. I mean, that’s what I believe as well. And I think generally the harder you work at something, and the more passion you’ve got for something, even though it might not be your end game, the more fulfilled you’ll be. I think that’s an important thing that you can get out of doing the best you can in any given situation. Mate, it’s been excellent talking to you. I’m looking forward to seeing you around the school, picking up Oscar, and I’d love to interview Elena down the track. But we’re also going to catch up and have a drink and a chat. A little bit less formally. And I’ll speak to you soon, mate. Thanks,

Damon: Paul. Great to talk to you.