Simon Mordant is joint chief executive of Greenhill investment bank in Australia and sits on its global management committee. He trained as a chartered accountant in London before moving, aged 23, to Australia.
Since 2007, he has been chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and with his wife, Catriona, led fundraising for the museum’s redevelopment, donating A$15m (£10m) to the appeal. The MCA reopens to the public on March 29.
He holds several other positions in the arts world and is commissioner of the Australian Pavilion for the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.
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What was the first donation you can remember giving?
I think it was a “Bob a Job Week” as a Cub in the Boy Scouts in England when I was six or seven. The money went to an old people’s home.
What’s your favourite example of charity in action?
The way all levels of government – city, state and federal – got alongside private sector donors for the A$53m redevelopment of the MCA. This a wonderful partnership model and one I hope we see more of; where the community demonstrates what it wants and provides half the funding. The MCA, opposite the Sydney Opera House, now has the infrastructure to run world-class programmes as well as develop a financially sustainable business model. We expect to dramatically increase visitor numbers with the new facilities.
What’s the best way to fund arts programmes in a recession?
It’s always tempting for government to pull back funding for the arts but I think this is short-sighted, given the long-term benefits the arts can have culturally and economically.
Partnership between the public and private sectors is critical; more than ever in light of the recession.
Do you think the rich have a duty to give to charity?
I think there is an obligation to give back – as a migrant to Australia who has done well, I want to make sure we leave the community in better shape than we found it. I hope more of our generation does the same – it is sad to know that one-third of those earning more than A$1m in Australia give nothing to charity.
What is the difference between attitudes to giving in the UK and Australia?
I left the UK when I was quite young, so I don’t have an informed view, but the National Lottery was clearly a wonderful instrument to get arts infrastructure developed. Australia is still developing its culture of giving and I hope this generation can make a meaningful impact.
Is there anything you’d change about the way we give to charity?
The key change necessary is to encourage wealthy Australians to give back. Australians in general are extremely generous, be it for [the victims of] floods, earthquakes, bushfires or tsunamis, but the wealthy are clearly not doing their part and that is what I would like to change. Making a difference while you are alive is great fun – and you can’t take it with you.