MATT Baxby has been handpicked and headhunted by brands that pride themselves on differentiation.

More than 15 years have passed since Baxby graduated from QUT with a joint bachelor of laws/bachelor of business degree, that time articulated by roles in law and finance, and recently rewarded with QUT’s prestigious Faculty of Law Outstanding Alumni Award.

Graduating from QUT in 1998, Baxby began his career as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with Mallesons Stephen Jacques in Brisbane, where he was part of the team that handled the initial public offering for Virgin Blue.

He left his legal career and Brisbane in 2003 to work with the Virgin Group in London, working his way from investment manager to investment director, through to Virgin Money UK’s senior management team, and was then handpicked by Richard Branson to establish Virgin Money Australia.

Within 18 months, Virgin Money Australia launched seven new retail banking products and acquired 150,000 new customers.

Customer relations are Baxby’s strong point, which is arguably what compelled Bank of Queensland to bring him on board in 2012 as a fixture in its new executive team for retail and online banking.

Baxby talks to Brisbane Legal about the lessons he learnt while working under Branson, transitioning from law into financial services, and his passion for being a hands-on executive.

You worked at Virgin Money for more than seven years, which is known as a brand that is big on transformation. What business lessons did you learn working under Richard Branson?

Working at Virgin was an excellent professional period. Having contact with Richard and the immediate team he surrounded himself with gave great insight. I learnt three key lessons from working with him and observing his business practice:

  1. Surround yourself with fantastic people. Richard by his own admission would say that he certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but surrounding yourself with great people means you can achieve great things.
  2. Be brave in business. Being a high achiever, Richard adheres to this without fail. There is a bit of luck involved when it comes to being in a position at the right time to confront an opportunity, but you also have to be prepared to take a leap of faith to seize the opportunity.
  3. Keep your customers close and listen to their feedback. This absolutely ran through the DNA of Virgin and is present at Bank of Queensland as well. It was right at the centre of Richard’s being so that’s what he built his business on. I recall a specific instance where a customer feedback issue found its way to Richard’s office and he personally called me every day for two weeks until this particular issue was resolved. To put this in perspective, Virgin has 50,000 employees globally – that’s just how dedicated he was.

Are there parallels with practicing in the financial services industry and legal profession?

Business basics, such as meeting expectations around timeframes, were drilled into me as a young lawyer and really are transferrable regardless of where your career takes you. Also, to be successful in finance or law, you must stay close to your clients. Ultimately, whether they think you have done a good job or poor job will define whether you are going to continue getting work from them. A lot of opportunities that presented during my shift from law into business, and in particular into Virgin, came off the back of having good relationships with trusting clients. It’s important to remembering nurturing relationships may not seem to pay off in the short-term, but does in the long-term.

How did you find the transition from law into financial services?

Despite studying law and commerce at university, the transition from law into finance was a bit like being thrown in the deep-end in a technical sense. As soon as I assumed my role at Virgin Money, I jumped into a masters of applied finance to round out those hard skills. The other side of it – strategy, sales and people skills – are often learnt on the job.

Why did you pursue law over business originally?

I really enjoyed law at university and it’s obviously a very intellectually challenging area to pursue with a well laid out career path. At the time it wasn’t something I intended to do forever, so that’s why I was able to change paths later down the track more easily. I also think my experience abroad, in London, gave me the confidence to pursue different career paths. London is an easier place to redefine yourself, being a bigger market with endless opportunities ticking around.

What’s your favourite part of your role at Bank of Queensland?

I love the variety. My absolute favourite part is getting out into our frontline and branch network, spending at least a day a fortnight in the field talking to people. It’s one thing to have a great vision and strategy, but it’s another to have it grounded to real people. The people in our branches are standing in front of our customers, so their feedback is really important. I have reasonably long days but I find if you’re passionate about something, enjoy what you do, and work with a great group of people, then it doesn’t feel like that.

What do you do in your downtime?

I have four kids under four, two girls and two boys, who are a huge part of my life. I think you’re a better businessperson and person in general if you have a rounded outlook, and can’t help but do that when you have kids. I also keep to a regular exercise regime, and am a keen cyclist like most of Brisbane, managing to tie that together with a number of charities over the years such as Tour de Kids. This involves a week-long charity bike ride, which is quite a big personal challenge but for the great cause of the Starlight Foundation. It has raised more than $5.4 million for the charity since 2001.

What attracted you to Bank of Queensland?

I couldn’t work for a company that isn’t customer-oriented. Also, Bank of Queensland offers a differentiated service, where customers can interact through digital channels or different types of advisors. The industry is highly competitive, but Bank of Queensland is able to evolve by holding onto the strengths of those relationships, and communicating through new technology such as mobile applications and social media. These are things I stay focused on.


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