“Show me the money!” – A Stockbroker’s Story

“Show me the money!” This was always in the mind of the young Kevin Cairns as he bound the morning newspapers ready for pre-dawn delivery at the age of twelve. Whilst dreaming of the big bucks, Kevin also dreamt of the short cut to making it. Get rich quick was his preferred way!

At a very young age Kevin had already developed a keen interest in the share market. Unfortunately his first purchase of shares, in his pre-teens, went south but it didn’t discourage him. With his Dad’s guidance, but with his own hard earned cash from casual jobs, Kevin continued to invest in the stock market, for the good and the bad, hoping he didn’t have to labour in life for his dues. He believed there must be a better way. He has seen his Dad work hard running his own hardware store six and half days a week and his Mum, a life-long honest toiler, had little leisure time. Young Kev, always a bit lazy, was looking for another way. Little did he know that life was going to mould a very different man from the young lad Kevin was. But life can be like that – unpredictable!

At twenty years of age, Kevin discovered something new – his mojo! Kevin harnessed this new found passion for his working life and qualified as an Accountant. However, his degree was just to be his launching pad, as after an initial three year foray doing tax returns for a firm, Kevin wasn’t interested in staying in professional services like many of his peers. His road was a different path.  His intuition, and his enthusiasm for the stock market, suggested to him his entrepreneurial streak was better suited to the broking life. So with all the excitement and the naiveté of youth (and possibly a bad ’80’s hair style!), Kevin started his broking career. Three stockbroking firms, as a Private Client Advisor, and almost thirty years later, Kevin shares his story with me in a reflective and sincere voice as he recalls lessons learned and wisdom gained. It hasn’t been an easy ride.

With two significant market down turns, and a few peaks and troughs along the way, Kevin has learnt some of life’s hardest lessons. And it has hurt. It has hurt him, and his clients, and it’s taken many years of sleepless nights for Kevin to accept he can’t get it right all the time, and he has to accept the good and the bad. This is a valuable lesson for all investors in the markets and an insight for any up-and-coming stockbrokers.  There may be the opportunity for big wins in broking but an appetite for risk (even calculated risk) can come at a high price.

In reflecting on what Kevin shares with me, it makes me think “Isn’t this the plight of all stockbrokers?”  They can apply all the rationale of economics and business, be working hard and smart for the good of their client, have the client interests at the core of everything they do, but global boom and bust is not in their control. Companies stocks rise and fall. “But that is the game we are in”, Kevin says in matter-of-fact voice.  My uneducated conclusion is, it may all be a matter of timing. Hmmm ….where is that crystal ball?

It strikes me you have to be pretty tough skinned in the broking industry. But this is at odds with the congenial, compassionate, empathetic person I am having coffee with. Kevin agrees you have to be resilient, but does highlight being a ‘people person’ is core to success. You have to engage with, and nurture clients and build trust. Integrity is crucial. It’s not surprising clients enjoy dealing with Kevin and his enduring business relationships are a testament to Kevin’s partnering approach.

With close to three decades industry experience Kevin is obviously not fragile. In fact, he is super tough! He’s an Ironman! That makes sense to me. That must be where he gets his resilient approach to the ups and downs of the stockbroking life. “Actually, no this has not been the case until recently”, Kevin is quick to point out. His intense sporting activities are only a very recent occurrence. Prior to forty, Kevin did nothing remotely related to fitness. Wow, in ten years he has transformed from indulgent couch potato (self-confessed) to Ironman! I am keen to understand this transition and what it has meant to him.

Turning forty and having a family was the turning point for Kevin. He realised he needed to have a healthier lifestyle so he could be there for his children and enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed.

Kevin articulates very keenly, “Sport has changed my life. It has been a hard road coming from twenty years on the couch to Ironman competitions”. Kevin possibly felt a little like Humpty Dumpty must have, as many physios have made a fortune ‘putting him back together again’. But it has been worth every step of pain and struggle. It has made him a better person.  Kevin confesses, “sport has given me an outlet for frustration”, and when Kevin reveals his work productivity peaked during full-on ironman training I am impressed.  If Kevin had discovered sport earlier it could have saved him a lot of heartache. It has helped him set goals and deal with the challenges life presents. Kevin has developed a far more positive outlook about life and also towards himself. Whilst, finding it later in life, Kevin is a convert to exercise and good health.

From a very early age we discover the realisation that it is not only our internal reference points that are important. We all want to be validated by our peers, even as adults.  One of Kevin’s greatest rewards for his efforts has come from his sporting peers. He has won “Club Person of the Year Award” four times in the last six years and it is the most coveted award at his triathlon club and is based on athlete votes. Kevin may not be the best but he has been acknowledged for best sportsmanship, for trying hard, for not giving up, for doing his utmost best. An honour like this must feel good. Kevin agrees.

Kevin also has realised money for money’s sake, is not the scoreboard in life, but this is only in recent years as he has become a parent and is seeking to instil the right values in his children.

Kevin strikes me as someone who has arrived at the right conclusions in life early enough to make a difference. Kevin is a very successful Ord Minnett stockbroker and he shows restraint and maturity in advising his clients. His caution to would-be investors is not to be cavalier, but a wise investor. Through experience, and cobbled together snippets of good advice from many different people, Kevin has a well-rounded view of the world and what is realistic. He appreciates people who have supported him with sharing their time and values people who stand up and can be counted on. It’s really not about “show me the money!”.

Kevin, and his wife Catherine, however, are showing the money to a couple of charities they hold very dear. They are hopeful their contribution will help towards finding a cure for Motor Neuron Disease, a cruel debilitating disease that recently contributed to the early death of their good friend Scott Sullivan. Kevin knows the value of money for a charity and the prospect for better research and future cures sees him dig deep. But it’s not only money that Kevin wants to offer. Hoping to retire earlier than 70 (“don’t worry Catherine he’s aiming for 50 something!’) Kevin will focus his efforts on MND and Me and other charities he supports. One of his favourite people in life, the late Trevor Bishop, former Chairman of The Clem Jones Centre, a Not-For- Profit sporting centre, was a very charitable man and Kevin has a strong emotional commitment to his mentor and friend to continue his support.

When asked about what is important in life, I almost detect a tear when Kevin mentions his family. Everything he does is to show a good example to his children. He walks the talk, and by ‘doing’, he is literally showing his children what life means.  Kevin has worked out life is meant to be lived, meant to be fun and there to be embraced. Kevin now knows that you don’t always win and the disappointments can be big. If you approach life like sport, you are in it for the journey, and the triumphs aren’t always about winning and coming first, but are about making you the person you are. Perhaps Kevin and the Socceroos have this philosophy in common! You don’t have to win, just aim to compete at your very best and that makes you a winner!


Kevin Cairns – Ironman!

Kevin, you have enjoyed a very fortunate life but not without challenge. At 50, your journey has a long way to go and your commitment to philanthropy is going to shape your future. I am conscious of your friendship with Scott Sullivan and the heartbreak you must feel as his passing. Obviously he has left this world with a wonderful legacy, and I don’t want to be too invasive of your privacy, but perhaps you have something you can share in regard to what Scott left you.

Zelda, I am saddened by Scott’s death but we all knew it was coming at some stage. The devastation to Scott’s family is just ridiculous and feels very unfair. I don’t feel private about my feelings regarding Scott. I admire the way he handled himself through diagnosis and right up until he died. He is a great man and one of those heroes that I can draw upon when needed for guidance. One of my mates, a triathlete is raising money for MND & Me during his journey to Hawaii Ironman. http://www.everydayhero.com.au/event/gdim


Scott Sullivan was a client of ours at Zelda Recruitment. From his ‘straight-to-the-point’ initial, heartbreaking email advising of his diagnosis (and what his deterioration would involve), to the many MND and Me functions attended by our staff, Scott showed himself to be an EXTRAORDINARY person.  Please take the time to read about his struggle and his commitment to raising funds to find a cure.

Scott and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.


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