Travel Yarn – In Travel Group
In Conversation with Chris Croker, Managing Director at Impact Investment Partners (IIP), the organisation managing the new The Indigenous Infrastructure Investment Fund (IIIF)
Where are you and your mob from?
I’m from the NT. I’m born in Darwin, but my family are Luritja people from the central desert – to the west of Alice Springs. I’m from a pretty large family (one of 11), so family was always around and part of my life. Some would say that we had a difficult life, but I look back on my childhood years are some of the best times of my life. My brother – Alan – and I did everything together. Roaming the streets, climbing trees for mangoes or playing computer games at the local games arcade. It was pretty fun and exciting. My family also travelled a lot – we couldn’t afford to fly, so we would drive everywhere. Down to Alice and country on almost a monthly basis, school holiday trips to Queensland, Broome, Perth or Sydney and Victoria. We drove everywhere. But yeah, family was and still remains very important. We spent a lot of time visiting and living in the remote Aboriginal homeland communities. Just hanging out with family, seeing the country and enjoying being ourselves.
Can you tell us about your own professional journey and how you got to where you are today?
I proudly tell people that my first job was when I was about 10, working with my father and one of my older brothers putting up a fence around a small town ‘down the track’ from Darwin. We worked there every weekend for about six months, doing this and that job.
But my work life really began after university. I studied Mining Engineering at UQ in Brisbane and worked in the mining industry for about 10 years, which was great. It gave me a lot of wide-ranging experience and also allowed me to really drive the development and delivery of some really successful local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training and employment efforts.
I went back to university and studied an MBA at MBS – a part of the University of Melbourne, which lead me to being recruited by one of the large business consulting companies – Boston Consulting Group or BCG. I stayed with them for a little over four years, working on engagements from international growth strategies for Australian companies to company mergers and integrations. These meant that I travelled a lot! Some staff would have a race to be the first to earn the top tier frequent flyer status at the start of each financial year.
During this time, I worked and lived in the USA for about a year and also in Hong Kong and China for another year. It was very inspirational and exciting but a little draining. I left to take things a little slower and spent time on myself. Working as a freelance consultant for about four years in a number of interesting engagements for both the Aboriginal community, various Aboriginal businesses, but also advising a number of larger companies on how to implement or improve their employee and supply chain diversity. I got called back to the mining industry for another four years to lead a side business of one of the large mining and civil contracting companies – where we focused on Indigenous employment and training; and setting up joint ventures with local communities to access business opportunities in the civil and mining projects around the county. It was a lot of fun, with many friends being made around the county. But for the last four to five years, I’ve been leading the work at Impact Investment Partners. Working on creating opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to participate or share in the economic benefits of business opportunities and investments that are happening on their land or in their community.
Can you please tell us about IIP?
Impact Investment Partners (Impact IP) is a specialist infrastructure investment manager that applies social impact principles to large-scale commercial investments. Our executive team and board members have hands-on experience in infrastructure execution, construction and operations. Impact IP and our Investment Committee also have a depth of experience in investment advisory, private equity, and Australian and international infrastructure funds management.
Since 2014, Impact IP has been delivering a range of consulting and advisory services to Australian state and territory governments, investors and Indigenous communities. We have led policy development in respect to Aboriginal self-determination, regional infrastructure development and community housing investments. Impact IP has also built a large network of Indigenous community leaders and senior expert advisors in Indigenous affairs, and advised on a number of large Indigenous infrastructure projects. In 2017, Impact IP worked to secure one of Australia’s first Indigenous investments in a $20M renewable energy project in Western Australia. We advised on a $14M sewerage sludge treatment system in Western Australia that will provide significant cost savings and economic impact for Aboriginal communities. Impact IP has also provided commercial advisory services to Victorian rural Aboriginal communities for business case development, feasibility assessments, prioritisation analysis and support in the negotiation of financial investment and economic development agreements.
What is the IIIF?
We came up with the idea for the IIIF after working on providing business and strategic advice to Indigenous communities and investigating investment opportunities for Indigenous communities over the past three years.
This is a great investment opportunity that will achieve good commercial returns for all investors and great social benefits, directly for Indigenous people but indirectly for the country as a whole.
How will the IIIF help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
The IIIF benefits community is a few ways. Our investments will be in areas or sectors that have serious and pressing needs. Whether it is investing in improving electricity reliability and affordability in remote town or in providing more efficient options to access primary health services. The lives of Aboriginal people will be directly improved.
Also, we are providing the opportunity for the Indigenous groups across Australia with strong land title and financial capital to ‘do more with their resources’. It is my belief that quite often the scarce money that we do have isn’t put to the best use. Some sits in bank accounts, government bonds or on the share market. Which typical don’t have great financial returns and definitely do little for our people.
Thirdly, we are creating strong demand for services and products delivered by the smaller Indigenous business. With us investing in a Medical clinic for instance, of course the local AMS will be the primary organisation to provide health services – they are the experts, but we will have opportunities for the local indigenous painters, building companies, cleaners, electricity or security companies to provide their services direct to the centre.
Lastly, of course there will be a strong need to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people to work with us – as the Investment Manager and also directly in the construction and operations of the assets themselves.
What is IIP’s role in the IIIF?
Impact Investment Partners is the 'Investment Manager' for the IIIF. We will find, develop and manage all the investments in the infrastructure projects on behalf of the investors. As managing director, I ensure that the dual outcomes – Indigenous Social benefits and financial benefits for all investors, is achieved.
Do you travel for work? If so, where do you go and what item do you always take with you on a business trip?
Yes, I travel a fair bit for work. Recently it has been mainly to Sydney, Perth, Darwin and Alice Springs.
What about leisure holidays? Any favourite destinations? Why?
I’m a sucker for going home. Whether it is Darwin – where I was born or Uluru where we spent a lot of time as a child. The sense of belonging and calm is profound.
In terms of excitement, I love visiting
Who inspires you? Why?
My mother. She passed away a few years ago, but she was born in the desert and lived in a different world from the one that we have today and was subjected some terrible things. But she remained strong and proud to the end.
Do you have any words on advice for the younger generations who might want to follow in your footsteps?
Get out there and have fun. The world is challenging but it has so much to offer.
A brilliant In Travel Yarn here with Chris Croker, Managing Director at Impact Investment Partners (IIP), the organisation managing the new The Indigenous Infrastructure Investment Fund (IIIF).
Thank you very much!