Mark Maloney at Sumo-Salad’s first
Green Label store in Sydney’s MLC Centre.
Picture: Renee Nowytarger.
Mark Maloney knows
what it is like to be part of a family that made more than $300 million
overnight. But he is also living proof of the old adage: money doesn’t buy
“You think all problems are solved.
Pay the mortgage off. Buy a holiday house. Take six months off. We took three
months off, travelled to France. After seven nights I was like ‘F…!’ I couldn’t
sleep. I didn’t have a purpose,” he tells The Weekend Australian.
Maloney is talking about the heady
days 4½ years ago when his family reaped about $340m from the sale of its stake
in listed mining services firm MAC Services Group to US oilfield services
company Oil States International. It was one of the deals of the decade.
“The MAC”, as it was known, was
founded 25 years ago by Maloney’s father, Kevin, to provide tailored
accommodation to the mining industry. It floated on the ASX in April 2007 and
the mining boom drove its shares to stunning heights.
History has proven that Kevin cashed
out at the perfect time, soared on to the BRWRich List and has
stayed there ever since (last year he was worth $440m).
His oldest son, a former investment
banker at JPMorgan in London before he returned to Australia in 2006 to run The
MAC, thought he was set for life the day millions poured into his bank account.
But the reality proved he was anything but.
“I have been there — part of a family
that made more money than you ever imagined. It was not something we planned.
We never thought it would happen. But I can tell you, it doesn’t bring ultimate
happiness. Being driven by money doesn’t work. It works for a while but
ultimately you end up a very unhappy person,” Mark Maloney says.
The family subsequently lost tens of
millions on an investment in West Australian gold producer Norseman Gold, which
went into receivership last year. Earlier in the year a worker was killed at
one of its mines.
Shares of the family’s
Canadian-listed THEMAC Resources Group, which has a copper project in the US,
also came under pressure. The group is run by Maloney’s younger brother Andrew
and chaired by Kevin.
And Maloney himself went through a
period of savage soul searching.
Without an operational job and
feeling lost, he battled depression and a near nervous breakdown. Then came a
divorce from his wife of nine years. They have two daughters (whom he calls the
most fulfilling part of his life).
Yet Maloney refuses to see wealth as
“At the time, going through those
different things, it was bloody tough. I look back now and think, ‘What a
wonderful opportunity to evolve’,” he says.
That evolution spawned a dream to
take his life in a completely new direction, which was crystallised in December
As chief executive of the family’s
private investment company, the Tulla Group, he engineered the Maloneys to
taking a controlling stake in healthy fast food group SumoSalad.
They partnered with Luke Baylis, who
set up Sumo in 2003 with James Miller and had overseen the expansion from its
base in Sydney to 100 stores around the country. The deal provided the catalyst
for Maloney to strike out on his own and get his life back on track.
While he stayed close to his father
and remained a director of Tulla (which also owns the Segenhoe Group, one of
Australia’s leading thoroughbred horse studs and racing operations), in January
2013 Maloney set up his own private investment company called Intrepic.
Intrepic invests in businesses that
are “doing good” with a purpose greater than themselves and partners with what
he calls “soulpreneurs”.
In addition to Sumo it has built a
portfolio of wellbeing and lifestyle brands including action sport media group
Garage Entertainment, digital travel company Luxe City Guides and education and
training start-up Big A-ha.
And Sumo is now set to go through its
biggest ever expansion after Intrepic recently took 100 per cent control of the
chain from the Maloney family and Maloney assumed the role of Sumo’s executive
“Being involved in investment banking
and mining for so long, we are now involved in a business with real meaning and
real purpose. Not to put those sectors down. But being somewhere where there is
more than just money and having a real impact upon people’s lives,” he says.
“They say the ultimate purpose of
life is to evolve and serve others. Through this we have that opportunity. And
not being just about making money.”
Maloney says the seeds of his
transformation were planted during his two years as chief executive of The MAC
after he took the reins from his father in November 2008. For the previous 18
months he had been the company’s chief operating officer.
“You leave university (today he is an
advisory board member of Sydney’s UTS Business School after completing a
business degree with honours in 1993), you work hard, you get into investment
banking and work in that high energy, ego-driven environment. It was all about
doing big deals. Making big money. Ridiculous bonuses. It just becomes the
norm,” he says.
“Then I became CEO of The MAC. Going
into The MAC was a great learning curve and a great grounding. Going from the
imaginary, Disneyland world of investment banking into a real company with real
people working at the coal face.”
Sumo, which turns over around $90m
from 120 stores nationwide, is now producing healthy breakfasts, as well as
soups and hot bowls. The philosophy of the brand has been moving away from just
being salads to healthy fast foods.
It is moving out of shopping centres
and into high street locations in inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne,
offering dinner menus for the first time. The first new concept dinner store is
the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.
In late March Sumo also launched its
first Green Label store in Sydney’s MLC Centre and joined forces with Red
Rooster to sell custom-designed salads in 350 stores across the country.
“We are looking at other partnerships
with airlines and service stations. There are a whole lot of options we can
take the brand to. We have a couple close to execution. They are not public
yet. Some are significant partnerships,” he says.
The growth ambition of adding 20
stores per year in Australia is set to be lifted aggressively. “Now I feel
comfortable as Luke does to put the foot down on the accelerator on growth,”
Maloney says. A float remains an option.
In the wake of the commodity price
slump, Maloney still has a valuable perspective on the resources sector from
his time with The MAC and as an ongoing director of Tulla, which also owns
Tulla Drilling, that works with coal resource and mining companies to discover
and define coal reserves.
He believes the road ahead for
resources is far from doomsday.
“But I certainly can’t see us getting
back to the heyday of where we were,” he said. “Logically it is not
sustainable. Time and time again, right through history, we get caught in these
cycles and people extrapolate them that they can last forever. They don’t,” he
Which is one of the prime reasons he
has pursued opportunities in the services sector and why Tulla has diversified
into venture capital with a focus on IT-related sectors. It also boasts a big
“Services and lifestyle is an
opportunity for Australia.”
But most importantly for the
heart-on-sleeve Maloney, his new life has put the troubles of the past in
perspective. As he told an audience at UTS during an emotional speech earlier
this year, he is now “bouncing out of bed everyday”.
“I am now doing something in a space
working with people and making a contribution well beyond what I was doing
before. I would never have got to that space without going through what I have.
Money is always a gift. It is whether you use it appropriately or not,” he
The constant by his side throughout
the ups and downs has been his father, the man who he watched nearly go
bankrupt several times and who he says has given him “the greatest MBA for
free, in business and in life”.
“The great lesson I learnt from Kevin
is that you will lose money, things will go wrong. They will go wrong more than
they go right. As long as what goes right goes really right,” he says.
“Kevin probably has about 50
different ventures. But only three or four where it is really all at. The MAC
was that massive success. It killed it. It is about learning that perfectionism
doesn’t work. You have to learn how to take a loss. Things will go wrong.”