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COV ER S TORY

Mhairi MacLeod – Astute by name & by nature OPERATING IN A traditionally male dominated field has never been an issue for Mhairi MacLeod, Founder and Principal of Astute Ability Finance Group. In fact she thrives on it. Commencing her career in the motor vehicle industry on the Central Coast at the age of just 19 built resilience and taught Mhairi that with the right attitude and work ethic you can achieve anything you set your mind to. As I learned more about Mhairi’s background, I couldn’t help but think how apt the name she chose for her business is. By the age of 24 she already owned two properties, had completed a business college qualification, had worked in a management role in the motor trade for a number of years and was in the process of starting her own business. It was clear from the beginning this astute young woman was going to succeed in a ‘man’s world’ despite the naysayers who told her she was too young and the wrong gender for the world of commercial finance. Since that time Mhairi has done much more than just succeed. She has gone from strength to strength, winning a string of accolades along the way and even outlasting some of those who told her she would fail. Commencing her business with the year’s salary she had saved in the bank in 1998, Mhairi knew that despite her many contacts she would need to spend a significant sum of money on advertising. “Back then a decent ad in the Yellow Pages cost up to $20,000 a year but it was an essential investment as there was no Internet,” said

CENTRAL COAST BUSINESS REVIEW FEBRUARY 2016

Mhairi. Rather than simply waiting for the phones to start ringing, Mhairi made another smart business decision in those vital early days. She aligned herself with businesses in the industry she was most familiar with – motor vehicle sales. Mhairi’s first alliances (with Alan Graham’s Motor World and Suzuki) provided her with a steady stream of income from the finance deals she made for the customers of those dealerships. Mhairi’s first major break came two years after opening the doors of her business when, on the back of a referral, she secured the contract with Orix Australia to handle the finance needs of customers purchasing vehicles at the Orix dealership on the Central Coast. Mhairi held this contract for a total of twelve years, placing staff onsite at Orix seven days a week while simultaneously growing other parts of her business. Over the next few years, Astute Ability Finance Group’s service offering expanded to include residential home loan finance in addition to a diverse range of commercial asset finance services, including vehicles for self employed people, trucks and trailers, boats, heavy machinery, farm equipment, and other equipment for SMEs and FIFO’s. Over the course of a decade Mhairi had built an impressive residential mortgage book, growing her team in the process. Sensing the writing was on the wall just before the GST hit however, Mhairi made another astute business decision - to sell her residential mortgage book and consolidate the business. So determined was Mhairi to do so that she attended an indus-

By Phaedra Pym

try conference in Fiji with the sole intention of making the sale, which she accomplished within a month after the conference. A testament to Mhairi’s integrity is the fact that one of her requirements was that she would work with the new owner for a period of two years following the sale to ensure her past clients would be well serviced. Indeed Mhairi’s fierce determination to look after the needs of her clients like no other has been one of the traits that has ensured a strong level of customer loyalty and referral over time. The decision to sell her home loan book allowed Mhairi to not only consolidate her business in time to weather the storm ahead, but also focus on her true passion - to help small to medium business owners by providing them with the assets they need to run a successful business. This includes the many self-employed people who struggle to obtain finance by approaching the banks directly. “It’s all about taking the time to get the right information and presenting their business and case for finance in the right way to ensure a lender will respond favourably without demanding security over the client’s house,” says Mhairi. Mhairi not only survived the tough economic conditions brought on by the GFC but thrived due to her ability to quickly adapt to market conditions and foresight to continually seek new ways of sourcing and processing business. “The hardest part about the GFC was seeing some of our clients go under,” reflected Mhairi.


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