Andrew Wiles

published: 13 Jan 2014 in Personality profiles

A friendship forged at school led to a life changing job opportunity for Andrew Wiles, who has just taken up the position of Global Chief Financial Officer for Sheikh Mohammed’s global thoroughbred operation after working for Darley Australia since June 2008. He will be based in London alongside his former schoolmate Olly Tait, who is Global Chief Operating Officer of the Dubai ruler’s equine interests.

WITHIN weeks of Darley Australia concluding negotiations to take over the Ingham family’s Woodlands Stud Syndicate Andrew Wiles was offered the position of Director of Corporate Services. The approach came from the company’s then Australian managing director Oliver ‘Olly’ Tait, who had a friendship with Andrew stretching back more than 20 years.

The pair had originally met at Sydney’s The Kings School, which has a long history of producing racing-oriented graduates. On finishing their days at the school, Andrew was a couple of years ahead of Olly, their careers followed parallel pathways for a while. First going to the mega accounting firm KPMG in Sydney and then continuing their professional careers in London. It was there that their careers diverged for more than a decade. Olly secured employment with Darley Stud Management and began what has been a spectacular climb to reach the post of Global Chief Operating Officer of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum’s thoroughbred empire. Andrew elected to stay with KPMG in London and then returned to the Sydney office before securing a position as head of finance with the Melbourne-based Cricket Australia. 

It was a post he filled with distinction over a seven-year period and during those years he and Olly maintained contact intermittently. However, by the time the phone call from Olly came, Andrew had left Cricket Australia to return to Sydney.

“I was surprised because it was something I hadn’t expected,” he said. “I was obviously excited by the offer and felt privileged to be given the opportunity to work for someone like Sheikh Mohammed. I was also happy to be renewing the connection with Olly.”

Now the association between The Kings School boys has gone a step further with Andrew being appointed as Global Chief Financial Officer of the operation. It means he will be responsible for the finances, strategy, governance and support services across Sheikh Mohammed’s expansive thoroughbred holdings in England, Ireland, the United States, Japan and Australia. Andrew and Olly are based at the group’s Dalham Hall Stud in Duchess Drive, Newmarket.

“No one could have imagined something like this would have happened as a result of the friendship we started at Kings,” he said. Ironically Andrew had begun his schooling at Scots College before fatefully being enrolled as a boarder at The Kings School in Year 7.

In addition to his studies he was a talented fast bowler whose wicket-taking for Kings earned him selection in the Greater Public School’s XI.

“During my years the Tait boys were also at Kings,” he said. “Olly was a year or two after me and we became friends.” On completing his days at the school Andrew moved on to the University of Sydney where he began studying economics. His prowess with the new ball earned him selection in a University of Sydney team, which toured England in 1993 when the Australian team led by Mark Taylor defeated England in the Ashes series.

“We followed the Australian players while we were in England and we played a match at Durham where the team included the brilliant Victorian batsman Dean Jones. The tour was quite an experience and I’ve always treasured the memories.”

After graduating with an honors degree in 1994, Andrew joined the influential accounting firm KPMG the following year. By chance it was the direction followed by Olly, who was also taken on by KPMG after also studying at the University of Sydney. “Coincidentally Jack Ingham’s son Ben was also a colleague at KPMG and I can remember Ben and Olly swapping stories about racing,” Andrew said. Following three years in KPMG’s Sydney office Andrew transferred to the firm’s London headquarters in the early part of 1998. He continued to play cricket in the Old Dart by joining the Old Merchant Taylors team in the Thames Valley League. “Interestingly, my father Ted was an old boy of the Merchant Taylors School so I was proud to continue that association.” 

Olly also found himself in London in 1999, but not long afterwards the lure of the world of the thoroughbred drew him away from accountancy. As Andrew says, an interview with John Ferguson who is one of Sheikh Mohammed’s right hand men, resulted in Olly joining the Darley operation at Dalham Hall.

“I remember visiting Olly in Newmarket and seeing the wonderful gallops and going to a point-to-point meeting, which was novel for me.” However, after spending about two and a half years in London Andrew arranged with KPMG to return to the Harbour City in September 2000 “primarily to attend the Olympic Games”.

Then in mid-2001 he read an advertisement in the Financial Review for a position at Cricket Australia and an interview was arranged with the body’s chief executive officer James Sutherland. “I went down on the first Virgin flight between Sydney and Melbourne. As the media does, there was quite a turnout to record the arrival. I hadn’t resigned from KPMG and I was a little bit nervous about the prospect of my employers spotting my arrival in Melbourne on a Sunday in a suit. I needn’t have worried because everything went well and I secured the role as head of finance.”

With Cricket Australia’s headquarters within a 100m or so of the Melbourne Cricket Ground Andrew moved south to participate in what was a “golden era” in the game. “While I was there Australia won two World Cups and the team boasted the likes of Warne, Gilchrist, McGrath and the Waughs, so I was fortunate to be able to share in a lot of the success of that era.” Importantly too, from Andrew’s viewpoint, he was able to learn a great deal about the corporate structure needed to underpin a high performing enterprise.

“During my time there I oversaw the finances and other commercial matters. I also had the opportunity to lead some very interesting projects including the successful bid for the 2015 World Cup which is to be staged in Australia in March next year. It was a joint bid we put together in 2005 with New Zealand Cricket and we then went before the International Cricket Council in Dubai, which was my first exposure to Dubai.

“Another team I led was involved with the I.C.C in the staging of the Super Series in which a World XI played a test match and three one day internationals against Australia. Those and other ventures on which I worked taught me a lot about strategy, governance and working with teams. James Sutherland became a mentor of mine and it is an association I value very highly.”

After seven years in the nation’s sporting capital Andrew felt the time was right to return to Sydney and he resigned from Cricket Australia. He secured a position as finance director with Granada Productions, and his future wife Sarah who he had met while in Melbourne, accompanied him to Sydney.

Andrew and Sarah went to the Melbourne Cup Carnival in his first year with Darley Australia and Andrew fondly recalls proposing to her in the Botanic Gardens on the day after 100/1 shot Rebel Raider, sired by Darley’s Reset, won the Victoria Derby at Flemington. They returned south for their wedding, on February 28, 2009, before a “big crowd” in the revered Long Room at the MCG.

“When I joined Granada the company was producing shows like Dances With the Stars, Australia’s Next Top Model and UK hit show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here,” he said. Although he found the work interesting Andrew had discovered he was not completely comfortable in the unique culture of the television industry when Olly rang. As well as keeping in touch over the years they had also been following each other’s careers “from a distance”.

“I knew about the exceptional success the Taits had been having with horses like Tie the Knot and Spinning Hill and I remember spending a day with Olly at Caulfield races. I also knew he had just completed the transaction involving the Darley takeover of the Ingham’s Woodlands Stud Syndicate.

“With the prospect of Sheikh Mohammed’s holdings multiplying about fourfold Olly realized he would need someone dedicated to the corporate area so he would be able to concentrate on the bloodstock side. He had seen from afar some of my experiences at Cricket Australia and he thought I might have something to offer, but his phone call to me wasn’t something I had anticipated.” So in June 2008, the Woodlands deal had been finalised in May, Andrew began as Darley Australia’s Director of Corporate Services.

A major part of his charter at that stage was to oversee the blending of Woodlands into Darley Australia. “At the time we had more than 400 staff spread across nine properties. We also had two very different businesses, which were successful in their own right but had their own cultures. Obviously we needed to bring all that together, so while it represented a big challenge, fundamentally the challenge was about building a structure and articulating a strategy.”

Now, reflecting on the amalgamation of two of the major players in the Australian thoroughbred industry, and globally for that matter, Andrew believes the key was having highly competent people around him. “We put together a team of experts in various disciplines, who have built a solid framework around them and developed sound policies and procedures. Coming in as I did, it was important for me to gain the trust of the core management team. That’s because without having the trust of people it would have been very difficult to bring about the meaningful changes that were necessary.”

Among the subsequent innovations that Andrew is most proud of is Darley Australia’s learning and development program, which is an “in-house frontline leadership training course”. “It’s has been tagged ‘Taking the Lead’ and is tailored specifically for our foremen and supervisors. The course focuses on people management and decision-making and it is designed to supplement the horse skills that people on the staff have.

“We followed that up last year by introducing a senior management program which we’ve called ‘Leading the Field’, so we’ve come a long way.”

It was not too long after Andrew began his tenure at Darley Australia that Olly departed for the United States and Henry Plumptre, who had been in charge of the Victorian end of the empire, moved to Sydney and took up the role as managing director. “That happened in September 2008 and I have worked very closely with Henry ever since,” Andrew said. “He is a great leader with strong intuition, and he exchanges well with our people.

“Together we have focused on creating a culture of continuous improvement and best practice, not just with our horses but in everything Darley does. Henry, myself, and everyone at Darley realise how privileged we are to work for Sheikh Mohammed. His participation in Australia is very important for the people at Darley, but also to the communities in which we operate as well as the industry as a whole.”

While working pretty much behind the scenes and leaving the horse management to the experts, Andrew has, understandably, had a steep learning curve in the practical side of the business. This has included attending the carnivals in Sydney and Melbourne, major overseas race meetings and being a frequent visitor to Darley’s breeding hubs and training stables.

“I’ve been fortunate to have many great days at the races, but I suppose the ones that really stand out have been Helmet’s victory over Manawanui in the Caulfield Guineas and Sepoy’s win the Golden Slipper after taking the Blue Diamond Stakes at Caulfield,” he said. Although Andrew readily admits the breeding side of Darley’s activities were new to him, he has over the time since his appointment, built up his understanding of that aspect of Sheikh Mohammed’s holdings. “Particularly in the early days I was frequently going up to the Hunter Valley to see how everything worked. Again it’s been a brilliant time for our stallions, with Exceed and Excel being champion sire last season and Commands and Lonhro being among the first four on the leading stallions’ list.

“What has also been very satisfying for everyone is what can be described as the reverse shuttle with Exceed and Excel, Lonhro, Sepoy and Helmet making their way onto overseas rosters. Both Exceed and Excel and Sepoy stand the northern hemisphere season at Dalham Hall, Lonhro stands at Jonabell Stud in Kentucky and Helmet stands at Kildangan Stud in Ireland. Commands had several seasons in Japan, so what started as a business of northern hemisphere stallions shuttling to Australia to winter is now starting to balance out.”

As an integral part of developing his knowledge of the “agricultural side” Andrew soon became vitally involved in the affairs of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. He held the position of vice-chairman and treasurer from 2011 until his departure for England in January. He was also chairman of the group’s Protect Our Industry committee.

“As people know one of the major current objectives of the association is to protect our industry from the encroachment of the coal mining industry. As chairman of the Protect Our Industry committee I led a team of highly committed industry people, including our president Cameron Collins and our advisor Helen Georgopoulos, which has been dealing with the issues confronting us.

“We consider the encroachment of the coal mining industry is the biggest and most serious threat to our industry. We have been very engaged in the situation and it is quite a wrench to be leaving these negotiations at such a vital time.”

The transfer to England also represents quite a wrench for the family and Andrew says Sarah, they have two boys Charlie, three, and Monty, one, was “naturally apprehensive” at first about such a dramatic move with a young family. “She is as excited as I am now and knows it is a chance to experience life in a great part of the world while the boys are young. I am sure it is something we will all treasure.”