When Andrew Pridham was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in January he admits he was a little bit embarrassed, claiming he was “too young for those sort of things”.
There is no doubt that at only 52, the boy who grew up in Mitcham, went to Mercedes College for a couple of years and then to Rostrevor College for the remainder of his schooling, has indeed achieved a lot.
His meteoric rise in investment banking on the international stage has brought him considerable personal wealth and led to many doors being opened, in particular to the Sydney Swans football club where he has been a member of the board since 2002 and chairman for the past five years.
He calls some of Sydney’s most influential people his close friends and his intellectual capability is held in high regard, with one associate summing it up – ‘Andrew is always the smartest bloke in the room’.
But despite all the achievements and accolades, Andrew has never forgotten his South Australian heritage and the Catholic values that were instilled in him as a child by parents Bob and Marie (who are members of the Henley Beach parish) and then the Christian Brothers at Rostrevor College.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Christian Brothers and I always got on very well with them. Brother Moylan who died recently was probably one who stood out later in my years at Rostrevor – he shared my passion for football and also was my economics teacher,” Andrew told The Southern Cross.
Besides mastering the subject (he won the college’s Michael Swanborough Prize for Economics), Andrew also took on board the philosophy of Edmund Rice education to be committed to justice and making a difference in the lives of those around you.
Perhaps that is why he was happy to donate a substantial sum of money to the college in 2005 to assist with a new science and technology building.
In 2016, the Pridham Foundation gifted $5 million to UniSA to build its great hall at its City West campus.
“I’m very grateful for everything UniSA helped me to achieve so it is good to give a bit back to them and help them when I can,” Andrew explained.
“I get a lot more pleasure out of helping people and giving money to worthy causes than just making money… there is only so much you can do with it in the end.”
As outlined when he was awarded the AO, Andrew has also been a benefactor and supporter of a number of Australian charities including the GO Foundation, Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation and Art Gallery of NSW.
Reflecting on his decision to study a Bachelor of Applied Science in Property Resource Management at UniSA, Andrew said it was prompted purely by the potential earning capacity of working in that field.
“Like most people who finish school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was accepted into journalism and law and decided to do real estate largely – and this doesn’t sound very much like social justice – because I read the BRW Rich List and I cunningly picked up that 80 per cent of the richest people had been in real estate!”
After graduating he left for the bright lights of Sydney where he “fell into” investment banking, specialising in property.
He worked for global investment bank UBS and before turning 30 was appointed the managing director and head of investment banking in Australasia. The high powered job saw him living in London and then Singapore until the tragic downing of the Twin Towers became a watershed moment in his life.
“We had financed the World Trade Centre for Westfield and when September 11 happened just like a whole lot of others I said, that’s it, I’d rather be back in Australia.
“There’s more to life than working and money and I’d rather be here, and that was the decision I made.”
Returning to Sydney, he joined the Swans’ board in 2002 and when good friend Richard Colless retired as chairman in 2013 he happily stepped into leading the organisation.
Since taking over the reins he has not been afraid to address big issues on the national stage, unperturbed by whose feathers get ruffled along the way.
When a racist taunt by a 13-year-old girl towards Adam Goodes hit the headlines in 2015, and the Swans star had been subjected to on-field booing for some time, Andrew knew it was time for him to step up to the microphone.
“A big part of being the leader of any organisation, apart from strategy, is you have to stand up for what the organisation stands for; standing up for the staff, players and defending them when it is difficult for them to defend themselves.
“The Adam Goodes thing was extraordinary. It really opened my eyes to just how brutal people can be and a lot of people in the media were just totally unfair and someone had to stand up for him – and a number of us at the club, without question, did.”
In true Edmund Rice style Andrew tried to make a difference. He drew attention to the racism that pervades our country and said it was time for Australians to have a good look at how they treated indigenous members of the community.