/Meet Atlassian founder’s punk-rock portfolio manager

Meet Atlassian founder’s punk-rock portfolio manager

Rosenberg came to Grok via JPMorgan and another family office – the Whyte family’s Audant Investments – but it is her childhood that sets her apart from most of her colleagues.

Born in Australia as the youngest of three to a single mother who migrated from Indonesia with little English, she grew up in a Wentworthville housing commission development in Sydney’s west.

“We lived across the road from a drug dealer, there were junkies all up and down our road, domestic violence was rife, so a challenging environment and I don’t like to dwell on that too much,” she said.

Rosenberg says she was aware her family was not well off from a young age. She was ambitious, aspired to be wealthier but also had a strong sense of social justice. She credits an early mentor with focusing her efforts.

“I remember him saying ‘We don’t have money, therefore intellect has to be our currency’,” she said.

Cannon-Brookes says he and his wife, Annie Todd, were fortunate to lure Rosenberg across to Grok Ventures.

“She’s a perfect example of the type of person the investment sector so badly needs more of,” Cannon-Brookes said.

Rosenberg’s job is to help Cannon-Brookes gradually diversify his wealth away from the $12 billion he has tied up in Atlassian.

According to documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Cannon-Brookes is gradually selling down his stake of 61,742,279 shares at a rate of 46,923 shares a week.

At prices of around $US130 ($187) a share that’s funnelling around $US1.2 million ($1.7 million) a working day, $US6 million a week or $US312 million a year into his Dollarmites account.

Mike Cannon-Brookes

Mike Cannon-Brookes “Annie and I are lucky to have a fantastic team at Grok.” Kai Godeck & DLR photography

Some goes to the tax man and some goes to living expenses but the rest is being invested by Rosenberg and her Grok Ventures colleagues in opportunities spread across the US, Australia and Asia.

Their investment pool is several hundred million dollars deep and it’s growing at a rapid clip.

The group invests in three main buckets: venture capital, for early-stage investment; global equities and a third bucket they call stable.

“It’s highly illiquid infrastructure-type investments,” Rosenberg said. “Longer-term yielding things like solar farm funds, public impact investment groups, and greenhouse and vertical farming funds.”

She works closely with two colleagues: Jeremy Kwong-Law, who heads up venture capital, and Lucy Hankin who heads up the stable capital but also works on venture capital. The three are part of the investment committee of five that includes Cannon-Brookes and Todd.

Grok has disclosed around 20 of its early-stage investments which include super fintech Spaceship, graphic design unicorn Canva and employee engagement company Culture Amp.

It has a similar number of investments in direct equities.

“That’s the level of diversification I’m comfortable with,” Rosenberg says. “Twenty stocks are probably about as much as I can do a dive deep into and remain sane.”

Among the companies it holds are US tech giants Apple, Amazon and Google. Asian tech giants such as Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba are also represented.

There are also a handful of ASX-listed minnows such as RedBubble, Marley Spoon and NextDC in the portfolio.

Grok’s 14 per cent of payments company Tyro has recently moved from the VC bucket to the direct equities bucket with a market valuation of $247 million as of Monday, December 23.

DIY investors with their pens at the ready may want to write down the ticker of the NYSE-listed e-commerce company Shopify (SHOP), which provides back-end support for online retailers.

Another tech stock they hold which isn’t yet a household name is Twilio (TWLO), a cloud-based communications company which sends phone calls and alerts through mobile apps, such as when your Uber is waiting outside or your Deliveroo driver is lost.

Then there are the giant software-as-a-service or SAAS companies such as customer relationship management software firm Salesforce and graphic design and PDF software outfit Adobe.

“One of the main ways we play listed equities, and we are talking our own book here, we believe enterprise software-as-a-service companies are driving innovation globally, they are making processes cheaper better and faster.”

SAAS companies sell products but charge for them on a subscription basis delivering recurring revenue rather than creating one-off customers.

“A lot of people observe that we are going from Atlassian to another SAAS stock but diversifying away from technology actually doesn’t make any sense because technology actually touches on every sector,” Rosenberg says.

Rosenberg’s mother was trained as a biology teacher in Indonesia. Unable to find work in Australia she began to study to be an accountant. She would graduate with a Masters in Commerce.

Rosenberg recalls her accounting textbooks around the house and would commandeer her mum’s computer whenever she got the chance.

“I was addicted to doing the tutorials on Lotus 1-2-3 [a predecessor to Microsoft Excel],” she laughs.

“I was creating budgeting spreadsheets at the age of nine but I would treat it like a computer game, I liked moving numbers around on spreadsheets.”

Armina Soemino

As a young girl, Armina (pictured in 2005) would do Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet tutorials on budgeting for fun. Robert Pearce

Rosenberg would be accepted into the selective Sydney Girls High School and then complete a commerce degree with honours from the University of NSW.

As part of the scholarship she was on she completed a series of placements with CBA, UBS and the ASX, among others.

“Back then I would say getting into investment banking was more about who you know rather than what you know and obviously with my background, I didn’t know anybody so it was great to be able to get my foot in the door.”

Taking a calculated risk she sought a role at JPMorgan reasoning that it wasn’t quite as cutthroat as UBS but more challenging than other firms.

She notes that UBS mining analyst she interned under – Glyn Lawcock – is still the number top-rated in his field 10 years later.

After taking a role in the strategy team, the GFC hit. Jobs were cut and she soon found herself as the junior staff member of three teams: strategy, small caps and property. It was a challenging period but would provide a range of skills she would draw on later.

As a woman from a minority group with an underprivileged background, she became a ferocious networker. She joined JPMorgan’s Women’s Interactive Network and PRIDE Group among others.

“One of the pieces of advice I have for any young person trying to get into the industry is, the best way to build a reputation and goodwill within an organisation is to get to know everyone and networking groups are a great way of doing that.”

Sally Auld

JP Morgan chief economist Sally Auld says investment firms are making a bigger effort to be more inclusive. Christopher Pearce

Rosenberg says the groups were a crucial part of getting to know her colleagues. While some were content to socialise with others on the equity research desk or within investment banking silos she was busy learning the names of peers in treasury, market risk and derivatives.

She speaks highly of her former employer but accepts it wasn’t perfect. She had hoped to see more diversity in the finance sector since she joined a decade ago, especially in front office investment roles where women are under-represented.

“There is a boys club and I think that’s changing. Every woman can you tell you stories about getting their fair share of propositions or looks or comments. But all these problems could be solved if there were just more women in the room.”

One of her colleagues at JPMorgan was economist and head of fixed income Sally Auld. Auld says the firm employs a lot more women than it did when she arrived 11 years ago but it still has a long way to go.

“Post the GFC there was a big push to improve the culture in US banks. Changing culture takes a concerted effort,” Auld said.

Making investment banks more inclusive environments is good for business, she says. Customers are a diverse group and want to see that reflected in the firms they do business with.

With top graduates – especially minorities – being lured away by the tech industry it’s not enough for banks to recruit from the top eight universities. It’s up to firms like JPMorgan to pitch the company to them, Auld says.

“Something I heard the other day was that graduates from minority backgrounds are asking firms what they are doing about LGBTQI inclusion as a bellwether because if they are good on that stuff they are probably attuned to other issues.”

Four years into her stint at JPMorgan, Rosenberg was given responsibility for emerging companies covering the likes of Dominos, Ardent Leisure and Retail Food Group.

By then she knew the names of everyone from the kitchen to custody services but still felt like an outsider at times. Conversational chit-chat hasn’t moved on much from asking where you grew up or went to school.

“Those questions don’t get asked overseas, no one asks you what high school you went to,” Rosenberg says. “It’s tough because people are trying to build a rapport, they are trying to find ways to relate and if you are female and Asian and from a poor background it’s harder.”

Her strategy has been to find common ground. Sport is a go-to for the touch rugby enthusiast and lifelong Paramatta Eels fan.

Literature is another, as she confesses her love for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

“It’s funny, women are very much in two minds about this, they think well, why should I learn about sport?” she said. “It’s easy for me because I genuinely love sport and watching sport and at the end of the day you just have to be yourself.”

Kate Howitt

Kate Howitt: “I’m sure that Armina will inspire a new cohort of women.” Jessica Hromas

The push for diversity is well established in corporate Australia; not just as a matter of equality but increasingly because, as Auld says, it leads to better corporate outcomes as well.

“The industry is definitely acknowledging there is a need for diversity of thought and opinion and thus diversity of background. People are now talking about how the more diversely informed you are, the better investor you are,” Rosenberg said.

Among the women Rosenberg says she admired when starting out was Fidelity Investment portfolio manager Kate Howitt, who runs about $2 billion in Australian equities for retail and institutional investors.

Howitt says she, in turn, was inspired by women in finance such as Catherine Allfrey and Tanya Branwhite. She hopes Rosenberg’s story would inspire others.

“But women shouldn’t aspire to do the job like men or even like other women – it’s great to be inspired but it’s about giving everyone the opportunity to make their own contribution and find their own path to outperformance,” Howitt said.

While Rosenberg’s first day at JPMorgan was daunting, her first meeting with Cannon-Brookes was even more intense, even if the dress code was a touch informal.

“There is a boys club and I think that’s changing.” Louise Kennerly

“He rocked up with no shoes on, and proceeded to grill me about my life and the decisions I had made,” she said. “Most people would imagine a three-hour interview would be gruelling but I really enjoyed it, we had a really frank and open conversation, discussing our motivations and hopes.”

Cannon-Brookes and his interest in clean energy is well known. He has discussed at length his passion for sustainable food sources including meat substitutes and indoor farming techniques. He’s also a fan of Elon Musk. Much of this dovetails neatly with Rosenberg’s own interests.

The Grok Ventures motto is “investing to make tomorrow today” and the team describe themselves as patient capital. On the subject of workplace diversity, however, Rosenberg is somewhat less patient.

“To be frank, I would love to be able to encourage more young women to enter the world of finance. Particularly front office investment roles where I feel they are lacking.”

Rosenberg accepts that in some ways this appears to be a matter of self-selection. Although the gender balance in commerce degrees is 50:50, many graduates choose to apply for roles in accounting as opposed to investment banking or fund management because they are perceived as macho work environments.

“I’m living proof that gender and background may be challenging factors but they are not limiting factors,” she said.

Lest you think she has it all figured out, the recently married Armina Rosenberg nee Soemino shared some indecision about the use of her maiden or married name for this story as the interview process began.

She was thrilled to take her husband’s name of Rosenberg, of course, but mused about abandoning the brand she spent a career building.

It’s an issue many professional women have grappled with before and will continue to grapple with in the future. In the end, she landed – quite confidently and without reservation – on Rosenberg. Some traditions, it seems, die harder than others.