Investment banker turns CFO at firm he knows well

When Rob Hamilton sat his kids down to tell them he had a new job as SkyCity's chief financial officer, their first question was whether that meant they could go up the Sky Tower for free.

It's natural his four teenagers are only interested in what benefits the new role will bring them, but it's also a bit of a novelty for the family.

For more than two decades Hamilton, 46, has been an investment banker at First NZ Capital in its various guises, including 12 years heading the investment banking team, so it's the first time they've seen their dad change jobs.

It was during an extended family holiday overseas in 2010 that Hamilton began to consider what his next move might be.

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Hamilton gave First NZ boss Scott St John a heads-up he was interested in further challenges and responsibilities, inside or outside the company.

While he's been sounded out for CFO roles in the intervening years, none had piqued his interest until a headhunter called at the end of May, looking to replace SkyCity CFO James Burrell, who had announced his resignation that month.

"It wasn't something I was specifically looking for but if there was to be an opportunity which was going to work best for me, the ideal opportunity for me to step outside of investment banking, it was going to be a CFO role in a company that I knew well and could apply my skills to and was going to provide me with the challenge and the excitement that you get in investment banking." SkyCity, a company Hamilton had advised as an investment banker, ticked all those boxes, he says.

"The other box it ticked in a major way, which was very important for me, was the team and the people.

"I was privileged at First NZ to work with a great bunch of people and a great team, both within investment banking and across the wider firm, and for me I wanted to make sure I was going to have something similar in terms of that team environment wherever I went outside of that company."

Hamilton says he has a lot of admiration for what chief executive Nigel Morrison has achieved with SkyCity over the past eight years, taking the business on quite a different journey to predecessor Evan Davies, and is looking forward to learning from him.

"I have a very open mind; my style is to call things as I see them.

"I'll give an honest opinion and an honest view, whether that's internally or externally, on what I think.

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"I've also had the experience of, I think, a very similar relationship with Scott in a sense, who is the CEO of First NZ.

"Scott and I didn't always see eye to eye but we knew how to exchange views in a way which was constructive and for the good of the firm."

While Hamilton has a good sense of SkyCity's operations at a high level after guiding it on its purchase of the Darwin Casino and helping with a takeover defence strategy when private equity came sniffing around seven years ago, he's now engrossed in taking a deep dive into the company to learn what makes it tick and what will move the needle in terms of shareholder value and performance.

Not being an accountant by trade means the finer details of financial reporting standards fall to deputy CFO Richard Smyth.

Hamilton says he has spent time in the past few weeks getting feedback on the company's performance, which threw up consistent themes.

The two standouts were delivering on the A$350 million redevelopment of its Adelaide casino and continuing the growth path of the "big engine" that is the Auckland casino.

He says the company had a good first quarter in Auckland, which contributes roughly two-thirds of SkyCity's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, and the challenge is to ensure it's not "a one hit wonder".

Hamilton says a lot of work in the next six months will be about funding the $500 million International Conference Centre to be built across the road from the main casino, and the Adelaide project, which is going to see the current debt level roughly doubling over the next three to four years.

"So lots of challenges; lots to learn, but so far very, very exciting." Exciting for his teenagers too, given that all SkyCity staff get to take their kids up the Sky Tower for free.

SkyCity

Annual revenue (excl GST)* — $821.5m
Net profit after tax* — $98.5m
Planned capital expenditure in next six years — $807m

* To June 30