If you run Australia’s biggest home-grown investment bank, as Macquarie Group’s Nick Moore has been doing since June 2008, you are a powerful man in so many ways.

You can make yourself rich: Moore took home close to $10 million last year and $30 million at the height of the boom.

You can make others poor: Macquarie shares have fallen from $100 at the height of the boom in 2007 to about $25 now.

You can make Australia a different place: by financing infrastructure that might not otherwise be built, such as Sydney’s M2 motorway.

And you can make parking charges at Sydney Airport the highest in the world: at $52 for three hours and one minute.

You can also tell the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to take a running jump. In 2010, ABC’s Four Corners revealed Macquarie had taken hundreds of small businesses to court to enforce contracts that the ACCC regarded as oppressive and unfair. Graeme Samuel (himself a former Macquarie banker) rang Moore to ask the bank to behave more reasonably, but met a brick wall. “This is a source of great disappointment to us,” Samuel lamented.

But best of all, when you run Australia’s biggest home-grown investment bank, you can persuade the government to help in times of need.

Soon after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in October 2008, Moore hosted a dinner for Australia’s financial services minister, Nick Sherry, at Macquarie Group’s swish Sydney offices. As he and his fellow executives sipped on their chardonnay, European share markets were falling through the floor, panic was gripping the world banking system and Macquarie’s survival was hanging in the balance.

Five days later, Treasurer Wayne Swan announced an emergency funding guarantee for Australian banks, which ensured Macquarie stayed afloat and allowed the Millionaires’ Factory to pocket several hundred million dollars in easy profit, by borrowing $17 billion of cheap AAA money and relending it at far higher rates.

Three weeks before that, Macquarie had flexed its lobbying muscle and nudged the Australian Securities and Investments Commission into banning short-selling on the Australian Stock Exchange, where Big Mac shares were under heavy bombardment.

Moore supplies the barest personal details to Who’s Who and has avoided Wikipedia. He also steers clear of Twitter and Facebook. But we can tell you he’s a typical investment banker in the Manhattan mould.

He swims, he runs, he competes at everything, especially in the matter of who makes most money. And he takes no prisoners.

A well-known Sydney financial journalist vividly recalls Moore putting a finger in his face at a Macquarie Bank lunch and telling him to “shut up”.

“I found him really arrogant and superior,” lawyer and writer Greg Barns told Good Weekend‘s Jane Cadzow in 2006. Another ex-colleague told The Power Index: “If you’re doing something wrong or you’re an idiot, he certainly lets you know.”

But friend and foe agree he is “ridiculously smart” and has “a steel-trap mind”. They also agree he was anointed to run the bank as far back as the 1990s. By the time he took over from Allan Moss in 2008, Moore’s investment banking division was making 50% of Macquarie’s profits.

Nevertheless, some believe he’s the wrong man for the job: a brilliant deal maker, not a manager, and yesterday’s hero, from an era that will never return.

It was Moore who perfected the so-called “Macquarie model”, which a well-known ex-Macquarie banker described to The Power Index as “all about creating deals that produce fees, fees and more fees”.

*Read the full profile at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey