Greg Tucker had many different lives before he became the head of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, including 13 years as an academic. He tells Briana Everett how a few opportune phone calls led him to where he is today
Spending two years in Paris, meeting and working with the likes of Al Gore and Michael Kirby, sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Well, Greg Tucker got to do exactly that, scoring a gig as a research consultant for the OECD while working as a banking and finance professor at Melbourne’s Monash University.
“I always say to people that if the OECD was in Parramatta I would have gone there, but it was in Paris, so I had to go there. It’s a tough life, someone had to do it,” says Tucker with a laugh.
“I worked with people like Justice Kirby – he had a role then at the OECD chairing some of the expert groups – so it was a fascinating period for me … I met Al Gore and all those sorts of people. I count myself as very lucky.”
As a professor at Monash, Tucker took the job in Paris during a sabbatical, returning to top up his research when he could.
“I did a lot of research in relation to the changes to the law as a result of what they used to call the information super highway.
That was in the 80s. I did comparative analysis of the way in which the member countries responded to changes brought by the electronic revolution,” he says, noting his fascination with being plucked from the university grounds of Monash to suddenly be working for the OECD, where member countries provided information at his request.
But Tucker’s time in Paris was just one part of a multidimensional career – one that began with a very brief stint in commercial law.
“I had a passion for the law. No-one in my family has a legal background or even went to university. I just wanted to do law, so I got my articles at Darvall Mc- Cutcheon, which became part of Phillips Fox, which is now part of DLA Piper,” he explains, adding that he also completed a Master of Laws part-time while working for the medium-sized commercial firm.
“It didn’t altogether resonate with me, working with a commercial law firm, although I did have a steep learning curve there, so I decided to tackle an academic career. I was offered a position and, 13 years later, I was a professor and head of the banking and finance department at Monash University.”
Banking, Tucker’s “second passion” after the law, not only led to 13 years of academia and two years fuelling his passion for all things French in Paris, but also a brief life in the “wonderful world of slicked back hair and braces”.
“One weird and wonderful day I received a call from ANZ McCaughan – a very large stockbroker which was part of ANZ Bank – asking me to become head of the analysis team for the listed banks,” he says.
“I thought they had got the wrong number. I told them I couldn’t add up and they said, ‘That doesn’t matter, we can add up. We need someone who understands banking’.”
Grabbing the opportunity, Tucker ended up on secondment to ANZ McCaughan as a senior financial services analyst and travelled the world to destinations like Boston, Abu Dhabi and London.
Later, drawing Tucker in yet another direction, was a phone call from William Noall, which was a listed retail broker and financial advice company, before merging with Tolhurst, which is now known as Patersons.
That phone call led to his appointment as CEO. “I went from being in a wholesale broking environment to a retail broking environment which, again, was weird and wonderful. It was very exciting as it was during the dot com era,” he recalls.
When Tolhurst listed, Tucker stepped down as CEO and went on a period of gardening leave, which ultimately led him to Maurice Blackburn – for the second time.
Tucker’s relationship with Maurice Blackburn had already begun back in the 80s when he secured a once-a-week consulting job with the firm while still at
Monash. In 2004, he was invited back to be the firm’s first non-executive director. In August that same year, Tucker became the firm’s NSW CEO, leading to his appointment as national CEO in 2005.
Growing your own
With the help of his team, the CEO of 650 people across 26 offices has generated, on average, 12 per cent financial growth each year, doubling the firm’s size in five years.
“If you think about the economic times and the GFC, we’ve grown very strongly. The thing about that is we’ve done it organically … That’s how we’ve grown and we’ve stuck to our knitting,” says Tucker.
“We haven’t brought in a foreign legion from mergers and acquisitions.”
As to whether Maurice Blackburn will follow Slater & Gordon’s lead and float in the future – a question often posed to Tucker – it is not something on the cards for the firm at this stage.
“We never rule out anything, but if you look at how we’ve grown to date and the path we’ve set for ourselves, we’re very happy with the way things are going now,” he says.
“I’ve run a listed company before and I know that can change the culture and the dynamics within a firm.
It’s really for others to judge, but I don’t believe that’s where we are psychologically now. We’re very happy with the path we’ve chosen and keeping it all together.”
Further growth is on Maurice Blackburn’s horizon, but Tucker notes the firm’s caution when it comes to expanding further in each state.
“We grow strategically, so we have to be careful,” says Tucker in response to questions concerning plans for new offices in states other than Queensland and Victoria – the two states in which the firm has the greatest presence.
“Like anyone else, we don’t have limitless funds or capital so we really choose where the best place is to be next … There’s a lot of dynamic in that, but we will continue to grow, there’s no doubt about that.”
During his tenure as CEO, Tucker says while bringing in the “best and brightest social justice lawyers”, the firm has honed its expertise to specialise in litigation only.
“We’ve narrowed our gaze. We used to do conveyancing, family law and probate. We don’t do any of those things anymore. We outsource them all,” he says.
“We’re really, really good litigators.” The key to Maurice Blackburn’s business, says Tucker, is making a difference by helping people who have been injured or by taking on class actions, which otherwise would not be litigated.
“We distinguish between pro bono and social justice. We take on only cases, in this realm, that are going to make a broader impact on society,” he says, referencing a case currently being fought by the firm which challenges a breast cancer gene patent.
According to Tucker, “making a difference” is what helps him get out of bed each morning – a task made relatively easy given he left commercial law pretty quickly to pursue what he’s most passionate about.
“Not at all,” he says when asked whether he was ever tempted to return to the world of commercial law.
“It’s just a totally different environment. It’s chalk and cheese.”
While discussing the importance of having a life outside work – “You have to have spare time, that’s really important” – the impact France has had on Tucker’s life, beyond his job at the OECD, is evident, and an influence he hopes to pass on to his three sons aged 21, 19 and 16.
“I’ve got a great passion for the French language. I speak French so I like reading French detective novels,” he says. “I still have a French pen friend. I’ve had a French pen friend since I was 18.”
Recalling the weekend’s game of cricket, which the 65-year-old was “still recovering from”, Tucker says he couldn’t have ever imagined he’d be where he is today.
1990-1996: Professor and head of the banking and finance department at Monash University
1997: Head of analyst team for listed banks at ANZ Securities (Stockbrokers)
1999-2001: CEO of William Noall
2005: Appointed national CEO of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers