Why the Albert family music business of Australia is on song with impact investing

By James Beech

The Albert family of Australia is dedicating its almost 140 years of experience and passion for nurturing music talent and broadcast media to impact investing in a growing number of cultural, environmental and welfare pioneers.

The fifth-generation Albert dynasty is renowned for supporting such artists as AC/DC and the Easybeats and made its fortune in music publishing. The family’s custom of investing its patient capital in talent for long-haul dividends dovetails into the impact practice of backing startup ventures which generate positive social and environmental benefits as well as financial returns.

The family launched Alberts Impact Capital this year, its first AUD$16 million (US$11.4 million) early-stage impact venture fund. Their venture has already made eight investments in the arts, entertainment and mental health spaces.

The Alberts family business, based in Sydney, is led by David Albert, as chief executive, with siblings Ingrid, Emily and Kirsty Albert as executive directors. David Albert joined the family business in 2004 after working in marketing roles for Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, Kellogg’s and Australian telecommunications companies Optus and Telstra.

The fifth-generation cohort are descended from Swiss immigrant watchmaker Jacques Albert, who opened his timepiece repair shop in Sydney’s Newtown in 1885. Successive Albert generations helped shape Australian pop culture through their diversifications into music publishing, public and commercial broadcasting and film and television production.

The Alberts sold their cornerstone music business, J Albert and Son, to the newly formed Australian arm of German media giant BMG in 2016. However, the family retained its ownership of lucrative publishing rights to the seminal Australian rock bands AC/DC and the Easybeats, in addition to the Harry Vander, George Young and Stevie Wright catalogues.

David Albert tells CampdenFB about his family’s journey from music business moguls to B Corp-certified active impact investors. We ask what the Alberts team looks for when investing, how impact fits with the family’s philanthropic foundation and where their patient capital will take them in a decade’s time.

What prompted the Albert family to launch Alberts Impact Ventures, how much has been allocated in the fund and what are the family’s goals?

Following the sale of the music business, which was the core operating activity for Alberts, the fifth generation of the family undertook a strategic review which led to the development of a long-term plan and renewed family vision and business purpose.

Alberts is now focussed on impact investing, backing pioneering founders and organisations who share our vision for a better tomorrow. Part of the plan aimed to create a legacy for future generations. One way of achieving this was for Alberts to get back to directly investing in operating businesses. This led to the creation of Albert Impact Ventures, an opportunity to back pioneers who were out to make a better world. The evolution of this area of the broader strategy was overseen by Glenn Bartlett, who is now head of strategy for Impact Ventures.

How do your values and experiences as a multigenerational family business influence your impact investments?

Many of our values and experiences are reflected in our impact investments. For one—the four impact themes (arts, music and entertainment; environmental sustainability; mental health and wellbeing; equality) were chosen due to the team’s values and passion to make a difference in them.

We also look for values we hold dear amongst our founders e.g. integrity and passion.

Being a multigeneration and pioneering family, we have had over 137 years of experience supporting individuals, organisations and industries from the early days of music publishing to the birth of commercial radio and television in Australia and beginning in the 1960s, supporting bands and songwriters in the Australian pop and rock music industry. This experience has made us patient investors who are able to take a long-term view to our return on capital. Founders building transformational businesses appreciate this.

Which impact investments have Alberts Impact Ventures made to date, why did you invest in them and what will be satisfactory returns on investments?

We have made eight investments to date. Tixel and Muso within the arts/music/entertainment theme. Amber Electric, Sendle, Airrobe, MGA Thermal and Grid Cognition within environmental sustainability and Like Family in the mental health thematic. We made these investments first and foremost because we believe as these businesses scale, so too will the positive impact they have. Critically, what they all have in common are compelling, capable and coachable founders with inspiring long-term visions.

How is Alberts Impact Ventures supporting the music industry in the era of streaming and Covid-19?

We continue to support the music industry across various parts of our business. We have invested in Muso which helps connect artists to venues—creating more opportunities for emerging artists and ultimately a more vibrant culture. We’ve also invested in Tixel which is an ethical secondary marketplace for tickets working to eliminate predatory scalping and to ensure there are fewer empty seats at performances!

We also believe we have a role in supporting the music industry given our belief in the power of music to change lives. This includes the grants we make through the Tony Foundation and our current focus on music education which aims to ensure that all Australian primary school children have a right to a quality, sequential and ongoing music education.

Outside the impact ventures fund, we are also on the lookout for later stage investment opportunities to promote and support the music industry with two examples of this being our role in backing Hamilton the musical and the virtual music festival Splendour XR.

What are your criteria when choosing impact investments?

We look for pioneering businesses which have a positive impact embedded in their core. Then, the more commercially successful the business—the greater the impact. The two grow together. We are seeking businesses making an impact in our four key focus areas: arts, music, entertainment; mental health and wellbeing; environmental sustainability; and, equality. We have developed an impact framework with an impact thesis in each of these areas to identify the pressing issues needing to be solved, and where we feel venture capital has a role to play in the solution. We look for innovations that are scalable and that are led by coachable, capable and compelling founders. Through this work we are seeking to work with ventures which contribute to a culturally rich, inclusive, healthy and sustainable world.

What is your governance process as a family and with non-family professional staff when selecting impact investments?

We feel that good governance is good business, and place a strong emphasis on having systems in place to give people the best chance of success. We have a business board chaired by Sam Mostyn, founder and president of Chief Executive Women and a seasoned executive. For Albert Impact Ventures in particular, we have an investment committee chaired by Andrew Rothery (part of the Alberts business board) with Kylie Charlton (Australian Impact Investments) and Will Richardson (Giant Leap VC and also part of the Alberts business board) as members.

The day-to-day operations are managed by investment manager Lisa Fedorenko, and head of strategy, Glenn Bartlett, who report to me as CEO and are all held accountable by the investment committee. Emily, Kirsty and Ingrid Albert all have roles as executive directors at Alberts and are actively involved in working with our portfolio companies and choosing new opportunities.

Do you include exit strategies in your impact investments?

This isn’t a focus for us. We’re looking for founders doing their life’s work, not thinking about how to exit a business. Our long-term view and patient capital is a key differentiator of our fund.

Some impact investors say there are not enough viable impact investments in the market, difficulties in measuring impact and not enough professional expertise—has this been your experience?

We don’t find this to be the case. We are currently tracking more than 600 opportunities a year just across Australia and New Zealand, so there’s certainly plenty of opportunity. The impact investing landscape has developed significantly over the past few years with increasingly high-quality early stage businesses emerging.

In terms of measurement, this is always front of mind and an evolving piece. The environmental sustainability space is the most progressed in this regard thanks to the increasing focus on carbon. However, in other areas measurement can be more challenging. Due to this, we work together with our portfolio companies to help them measure their impact in a way that keeps us all accountable while limiting the burden of reporting. All the business we invest have impact at the core of their model, so measuring it is a natural addition to standard business reporting.

Do you see Alberts Impact Ventures running separately with the family’s traditional philanthropic Tony Foundation, or complimentary, or with one eventually replacing the other?

Alberts overarching business purpose is to back pioneers who share our vision for a better tomorrow. We see our work through the Tony Foundation and the capital allocated to the Impact Ventures as supporting this overall goal and so both are key aspects of the broader Alberts family business.

What do you want Alberts Impact Ventures to have achieved in five- or 10-years’ time?

We hope to make a meaningful and measured impact across each of our four focus impact themes. Within five years we expect to be fully invested in 20-25 pioneering Australian businesses. In 10 years’ time we hope to see many of these investments scale globally to help creating a thriving world with a vibrant culture in which everyone is welcome. We believe that the returns will prove our view that impact does not mean concessionary returns and will lead others to think about the impact created from their capital allocation and their ability to use their capital to create change.

From a broader strategic perspective, our goal is that the Impact Ventures will have played a significant role in creating a legacy for future generations.

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