Winning Hearts and Minds
Dr Mark Nelson looks back at his time as a student at The Florey with great fondness. As a student of neuroscience and applied physiology in the 1980s, Mark was overwhelmed to be surrounded by geneticists and other specialists who had been lured to The Florey from Harvard and other renowned research hubs. “It was an enormous privilege to undertake a PhD at The Florey as it was considered to be such a very fine institute,” Mark says.
So when he was offered the irresistible chance to do a Masters of Philosophy in the UK at Cambridge University, it was with some trepidation that the young Florey PhD student went to visit the top brass, the intimidating Director, Professor Derek (Dick) Denton. Mark hoped to receive a leave of absence but had no idea how the idea would be received.
“As a poor student, I tentatively approached the Director’s office. He sat and listened and said nothing. He just listened and listened. Then he said, ‘hmmmmm’. He reached into his desk, pulled out a chequebook and wrote out a cheque for $1000 and said, ‘Here you are. You might find this useful’.”
For a young Mark Nelson, this was a huge sum and the generosity has never been forgotten.
“Neuroscience is an area that the world really needs to focus on” – Dr Mark Nelson
These days, Mark is Chairman of the Caledonia Investments funds management group, a company he co-founded back in 1992 after he left science to chase a world of finance and investment. But his link to Professor Denton has remained strong. Mark is a Florey Governor and was on the board of the Institute from 2001 to 2007.
That $1000 cheque has been paid back to The Florey many thousands of times.
“What goes around comes around, and I’ve been very happy to support Dick’s research over the years. The Florey was very good to me so obviously, I’ve been keen to help whenever I can.”
Caledonia is a global investment management firm that aims to achieve high returns over a long-term timeframe. It focuses on deep, fundamental research and high-conviction investing.
In an exciting move with long-term implications, Mark recently nominated The Florey to receive a share of Caledonia’s management fees through a new company known as Hearts and Minds Investments Limited. Hearts and Minds offers shareholders concentrated portfolios of the highest conviction ideas from leading fund managers, one of which is Caledonia. The donation of fees supports medical research and is designed to encourage the development of medicines and to drive a new generation of medical research in Australia. Every six months, Caledonia will forego their fees, and will instead have them directed to the Florey and the Charlie Teo Foundation.
“Neuroscience is an area that the world really needs to focus on,” Mark says. “Any investor will think very carefully about where they want their money to go. This initiative isn’t a band-aid. This aims at big ideas, at prevention and ways we can have far-reaching effects on human health. It’s almost at the stage that if we don’t fund brain research now and wait 20 years, we’ll look back and think ‘oh, that was a mistake. If only we’d done something at the time’. With our ageing population, we need to act now. The prevalence of neurodegenerative disorders increases with age, and the United Nations tells us that globally there will be 2.1 billion people aged over 60 by 2050.”
“From a commercial perspective, too, you ask, ‘Well, who should I back?’. I’m looking for infrastructure, private benefaction, government support, talented scientists….The Florey has all of that. It’s well worth supporting.”
“The Hearts and Minds initiative shouldn’t fail because it’s a sensible structure, and it attracts investors who are very clear on what we’re trying to do.”
To read about the inspiration behind Hearts and Minds, visit the Sohn Conference Foundation.