Heavy hitters don’t come much heavier than Todd Ruppert. If the name doesn’t automatically trigger instant recognition, then consider the following: Until his retirement in 2012, he was the president and CEO of T. Rowe Price Global Investment Services, the global arm of an asset management firm with in excess of US$850 billion under management.
He serves on the boards of multiple companies spanning the globe, and has diverse investment interests across technology, financial services, arts & entertainment and education.
He is a venture partner with Greenspring Associates, a $5.1 billion venture capital firm which arguably is the largest pure play venture fund-of-fund platform in the world.
And now he is poised to take his first-ever Australian directorship, joining the board of Mobecom following their reverse take-over of Waratah Resources.
While US-based Mr Ruppert has been a regular visitor to Australia since 2004, it took a chance meeting at a lunch in Sydney to spark his interest in Mobecom, a company that has developed a state-of-the-art rewards and customer relationship management platform that has won over many leading Australian and global brands.
While he had never heard of Mobecom before the meeting with the founders, the more he learnt about the business, the more he realised it dovetailed well with his strong interest in disruptive technology – and, very importantly, it had global potential.
“I was quite intrigued. I asked to meet for more information and to meet employees of the company. Discussions ensued and I expressed a keen interest in the company. They expressed an interest in my ability as an individual who had successfully globalised a company – they want to globalise and hopefully I can be of value in that regard.
Also I have a lot of connections in the venture capital space and in companies that could be strategic partners of Mobecom around the globe.
“I liked the company, I liked the people, I felt that the organisation was one that has a great chance for success and I also love Australia so there were a number of things that meshed together that made sense for them to have me on the board and for me to want to be part of it.”
It is a great “get” for what is still a small, but fast-growing business.
For Mr Ruppert, it will add a new dimension to a highly-impressive portfolio.
He spent 27 years at global asset management firm T. Rowe Price, leading a number of their businesses and in 2000 founding the firm’s global arm.
“Prior to that our client base was only in the United States of America. I started T. Rowe Price Global Investment Services as the first employee; we had no clients, no assets, no offices.”
Under his leadership, it grew into a highly successful global asset management company. He also continued to lead the US institutional business. Expansion of the business eventually led him to visit Australia for the first time 13 years ago, as part of establishing operations in Sydney.
“Since then I have come back numerous times on behalf of T. Rowe Price and Greenspring. My wife and I have holidayed a bit here, and one of our daughters spent a semester at Sydney Uni.
“Being involved with Mobecom will allow me to come back more often.”
Hearing Mr Ruppert describe his varied life since retiring from T. Rowe Price is enough to make anyone who is not Todd Ruppert feel like a chronic under-achiever.
“I do a lot of things in a lot of different areas. I’m on the board of INSEAD Business School which for the past two years has been ranked the number one business school in the world. They have a main campus at Fontainebleau, outside of Paris, plus campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and they will shortly be opening an institute in San Francisco which I’ve been heavily involved in.
“I’m also involved with Duke University and two other universities in the United States. And I invest in a number of education organisations. Education is very important to me. But I also invest in and am involved as an advisor or board member with a lot of fintech companies in the United States, Europe and Asia. I invest in a number of disruptive technologies, and I’m actively involved in investing in a number of companies operating in the arts and entertainment space.
“Among the many fintech companies in which I am involved, one in particular is Symbiont.io which is bridging the gap between the emerging blockchain ecosystem and Wall Street with the first issuance and trading platform for ‘smart securities’ allowing complex financial instruments to be digitised onto a distributed ledger. I serve on the board with the ex-CEO of Euronext/New York Stock Exchange and an ex-SEC commissioner.
This technology will prove to be positively disruptive, much like Mobecom’s
digitised currency, Airbux.”
Mr Ruppert’s interest in entertainment extends to making three documentary films, one of which – entitled A Year in Port – has recently been named as a finalist in the prestigious James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Awards.
He has developed a number of television shows, (two of which, The Classic Car Show and the Wine Show, are aired in Australia) and co-produced ‘Happy Days – The Musical’, the creative director of which was none other than The Fonz, Henry Winkler.
He founded a company that acquires the intellectual property rights of photographers. He even sits on the board of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
One of the companies he was an early investor in and board member of is insurance disrupter, Trov, which is working closely with Suncorp. He is also an advisor to two global leadership think tanks.
Mr Ruppert is the first to admit that “to the uninitiated it looks like I’m getting involved in everything”.
However, as he explains it: “There’s a method to my madness. I’m primarily focused on smaller startup companies, on companies in the technology space, the financial services space, the arts and entertainment space, and the education space.”
One of the elements he regards as critical when considering whether to invest in a business is its culture.
“As a company gets started, they develop a culture. And culture is key. You need to carefully and deliberately promote the culture that you have. One of the things I was proud of at T. Rowe Price was the culture that we had. It was a very collaborative culture; it was putting our clients’ interests first. Clients were the centre of everything that we did.
“We also had a culture that focussed on long term optimisation, not short term maximisation.
“I think the most effective way to create success for clients and success for ourselves is to focus on the long term and avoid activities that may appear attractive in the short term, but may have, over time, proven to impede long term success.
“I think one of the things that I can help with as the company grows, and I’ve been involved with many start-up companies, is to work and help on the cultural aspects.”
Providing further insights into his investment criteria, he described four areas of risk he looks at when considering a new company.
“There are tons of risks. But to bucket them, there’d be four areas. One would be management.
One would be the technology or the service, what it is that they’re creating. Is that differentiated and creating a competitive and defensible advantage?
Next would be the financing risk. Finally, I look at the product market fit.
“Typically, I wouldn’t invest in a company unless two of them are doing well. It’s rare you find a company where all four are looking good. I feel that way with Mobecom. I think the technology is disruptive, it works well for both the merchant and the customer, the product market fit is great, customers need what they’re doing and so do the merchants.”
“And the management team has worked together over a long period of time. Sometimes you look at a company and you look at the background and the skill sets of individuals and on paper it looks really great. But when issues come, emotions flare up and they may not necessarily work together well.
These guys have worked together for a long period of time. They know how each other operates. So that’s one of the reasons I really, really liked the organisation.
“There are a lot of things moving in the right direction. I’m sure there will be hiccups along the road as there are with everything, but I’m excited to be part of this.”
Mobecom’s customer-focused approach also caught his eye.
“Steve Jobs said you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.
“I think that’s the way they (Mobecom) built this business – they focused on the customer. And in their case there are really two customers: one being the merchant, and the other being the end customer. And the way they’ve designed this works well for businesses and for customers.
“They’re a software company providing leading edge customer engagement technology and, as you know, customer engagement is the relationship between the customer and the brand. Customer loyalty, however, is hard to earn. It’s generated by frequent positive engagements. I believe Mobecom’s technology will lead to strong customer loyalty.
“It’s kind of like the difference between brand awareness and brand equity. There are a lot of companies that have brand awareness but their brand equity might be low. We certainly saw that through the global financial crisis where some financial services companies’ brand equity went down quite a bit. The holy grail for businesses is having that customer loyalty. And I think that Mobecom has the ability to disrupt a lot and really enhance loyalty.
“And that’s great for the customer and great for the business.”
Home for Mr Ruppert is Baltimore, Maryland, the city he moved to when he joined T. Rowe Price in the mid 1980s.
“It’s a really interesting place, a great place. And in fact there is an interesting connection between Baltimore and Sydney. The British were sending their convicts to Baltimore, Maryland, and when we had our independence in 1776, it was at that point they altered the policy and starting bringing the convicts to Australia.”
Australia certainly has caught his attention from an investment perspective.
“From an asset management standpoint, Australia is a very large market, it’s the third largest pension market place in the world, with the superannuation funds and all.
“However, I think one of the issues is that while there have been a lot of start-up companies in Australia, there are only a few in the technology space that have successfully globalised.”
With Todd Ruppert’s expertise, reputation and track record – not to mention his unrivalled contact list – Mobecom has every chance of joining that very short list.
Who is Mobecom?
Mobecom is a software company focused on providing leading edge customer engagement technology.
Mobecom’s technology covers four main channels:
Mobile – Social – POS – Online
A full stack customer engagement technology provider, Mobecom delivers end to end technology solutions for businesses that want to engage with their customers via digital channels, creating value by turning databases into working assets.
By overlaying behavioural sciences, these solutions deliver real time business intelligence and analytics, providing clients with contextual relevance to communicate with their member base and drive incremental return on investment. Mobecom’s products operate within the retail, hospitality, payments, ordering, loyalty and health and wellness sectors of the global market either as direct to consumer products or white-labelled for clients.
The company’s B2B business has a global and growing footprint that includes international brands, retailers, restaurant groups, mobile telecom suppliers, media owners and insurance companies.