Cover Story: Lawrie Cox
Hall of fame
Lawrie Cox has made extraordinary grassroots contributions beyond the superannuation and aviation industry. Karren Vergara writes why AvSuper's independent director holds a place in SelectingSuper's 2018 Hall of Fame.

Few prominent names have pioneered superannuation in the aviation and engineering circles.

Alex Ingram, a former Qantas industrial relations manager in the 1980s, broke the deadlock over the direction of super in the industry.

I am not one waiting to go on the pension. The longer-term good of our country is having a sound retirement system in place.
Buck Brooksbank, an aviation veteran, focused on making sure every pilot could access super.

Last November, SelectingSuper awarded the 2018 Industry Service Award to Lawrie Cox for his contribution and subsequently inducted into its Hall of Fame.

The aviation sector is unusual in terms of the different risk categories, Cox says, much like the petroleum and explosives industries.

For example pilots, particularly on non-scheduled flights, are considered to be an insurance risk.

"We have pilots from the agriculture flying industry as well as non-scheduled charter joy flight instruction areas; getting insurance coverage is always difficult," he says.

He remembers pulling out crash statistics one time to show underwriters and told them: "It's actually safe going on a non-scheduled flight than driving a car down the road."

"They actually agreed," he says.

It's also a relatively small industry insofar as the people know each other.

For instance, if someone makes a claim, others in the industry will have some knowledge about what happened and the people involved, Cox says.

In the old days, Cox recalls dealing with pilots and engineers and other workers who had a good understanding of the nature of the industry.

"We have less training these days. Computer-based training is not necessarily the best outcome," he says.

An electrical fitter by trade, Cox helped built aircraft tires for a period. He joined unions as an organiser back in the 1980s and subsequently rose up the ranks to become assistant national secretary and assistant state secretary.

He was also involved in industrial relations as an officer and manager for 28 years.

Cox had a stint in the manufacturing industry where he helped pushed superannuation to 3%.

A clash with the secretary of the union on the campaign prompted him to leave and join the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, which advocated for super to be applied to third-tier level carriers. The organisation covered domestic and international pilots that had superannuation plans dating back to the 1950s.

"We would try to develop coverage across the next level - that was part of the attraction that came with that job.

"That's what drew me to superannuation generally; then I was instrumental in getting the superannuation clause into the industrial awards."

Cox helped convert an existing fund the pilot federation had at the time into a "lean and mean" industry fund that operated successfully. He was the trustee director of the Aviation Industry Superannuation Trust for over 20 years.

"Quite a number of pilots favoured the fund even though they moved to international carriers like Qantas; they still stayed with the fund because they thought it was good value."

He took up a directorship in 1990 in place of an alternate director role which he held for some time.

"We were all honorary directors, eight in total - four from the employers and four from the unions - and it covered pilots and engineers across the industry."

He also served as chair and secretary until the fund, with 6000 members at the time, merged with AustralianSuper in 2010.

Cox was approached by colleagues at the Air Traffic Controllers Association to take up a vacancy at AvSuper and joined shortly after, originally as one of four ACTU appointments.

The fund has since converted a few roles to independent directors and Cox's position was one of them.

Cox currently chairs the administration and member services committee; and is a member of the investment committee, and remuneration and nominations committee.

AvSuper currently has $2.5 billion of funds under management and over 6500 members. It recently welcomed Ben Firkins as chair to replace George Fishlock.

People first

When Cox isn't travelling or spending time with the grandkids, he is heavily involved in his local community and volunteers for swimming association roles. He also consults on industrial relation matters.

Cox proactively keeps himself occupied and avoids "mono-situations."

Part of his busy schedule is helping run Victorian town Whittlesea for a one-year term.

For a four-year term, Cox was elected to represent the south-west ward of the growing municipality of northern Melbourne as councillor. This covers 47,000 residents spanning the areas of Thomastown, Lalor, Epping and Wollert.

This isn't the first time Cox is representing the interests of the community. His first foray in local government ran from 1979 to 1986.

Perhaps it was the influence of his father, who was involved in the Coburg city council for 30-odd years that keeps Cox connected to public service.

His father, who passed away at nearly 100 years old and was an ex-prisoner of war, taught Cox the meaning of resilience.

Through his parents, Cox learned the value of hard work and self-sufficiency after they built a successful supermarket business before moving into other areas of employment.

"They helped set [grounding for my siblings and I] for financially secure retirement and they did a good job. I can only hope to emulate that," he says.

Cox is pleased he's been able to achieve a sound retirement system along the lines of what Paul Keating was aiming for, and credits the unions he worked with over the years for their commitment in helping build the success of Australia's superannuation.

That's one thing he thinks a lot of people don't appreciate.
"I am not one waiting to go on the pension," he says.

"The longer-term good of our country is having a sound retirement system in place."

The winners

AvSuper also won the Members' Choice Award at the 13th annual SelectingSuper Awards.

HESTA collected Best Millennial Super Product and the Investment Leadership Award.

Hostplus was also a multiple award winner, taking home Fund of the Year. It was one of five awards for the industry fund that included: Best in Show MySuper product; Best MySuper Performance Risk Weighted; Best Performance Fixed Interest; and Best Long-Term Performance.

The other winners were:

-          Best in Show MySuper Lifestage - Sunsuper for Life Business;

-          Best Personal Choice Product - AustralianSuper Personal Plan;

-          Best Retirement Product - CareSuper Pension;

-          Best Performance Australian Equities - Catholic Super;

-          Best Performance International equities - Vision Super Saver;

-          Best Performance Property - Prime Super;

-          Best Asset Consultant - JANA Investment Advisers; and

-           Best Value Insurance in Super - IAG & NRMA Superannuation Plan and MLC.

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