The Financial Times’s US Capital Markets Correspondent Richard Henderson spent his formative years in Melbourne, Australia, but his journalism career has taken him around the world. From his first job as a paperboy, to Vietnam, to London and now New York City, he tells Forefront how his Aussie background allows him to thrive in unfamiliar environments and why he thinks there could be a bubble forming in private market investments.
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What was your first job?
I was a paperboy in Melbourne, Australia, where I grew up. I delivered The Age, Herald Sun and the Australian Financial Review. A family friend was doing the same thing, so he got me the job.
How did you get your start in journalism?
I did an internship when I was in high school at Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Radio Australia (the international broadcasting and online service operated by the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster) through a family friend. After that I got involved in student radio station at RMIT University in Melbourne, where I was taking International Studies as an undergraduate. I also completed a graduate diploma in Journalism followed by a Master of Communications.
After graduation my first job was in Hanoi, Vietnam, where I worked for the Vietnam News as a sub editor and hosted an English-language travel TV program called Exploring Vietnam. I stayed in Hanoi for a year, and then moved to London and got a job as a reporter with the Surrey Mirror and the Dorking Advertiser in a town called Redhill. After being there for six months, I got a job with a magazine and website for buy-side traders and hedge funds called The TRADE, which is focused on market structure and electronic trading. In 2013, I transferred over to the US to become US editor of The TRADE, and then about a year later switched to FundFire, an asset management trade publication that’s part of the Financial Times (FT) Group. At the start of 2019, I became the US capital markets correspondent for the FT in New York.
You studied in Australia but have spent most of your time working professionally outside of Australia. How has that start and trajectory impacted your career?
That’s a great question. It probably makes it a bit easier for me to be in unfamiliar situations and meet different types of people and get along with different types of people from different backgrounds. But the financial services sector is very international, so there are a lot of Australians working in finance in New York and London.
What’s it like living and working as an Australian in New York?
Another great question. There are quite a few Australians in New York, which is quite funny, but it has been great. Australians are quite hard working and travel a lot. It’s quite common for Australians to work overseas or spend a lot of time overseas, so I’ve really valued being able to be in New York and London and work professionally.
What’s the most memorable or biggest story you’ve broken?
I’ve been covering MiFID II in the United Kingdom since 2012. I was able to talk to the members of the European Parliament as they were writing it, as well as fund managers and portfolio managers, as it was developing. It has sort of stalked me throughout my career.
In the US it has become a much bigger deal over the last few years, and because of my understanding of market structure and the regulation itself, I’ve been able to come to that in a different way than other journalists in the US. In regard to other areas, I’ve learned a lot about the asset management business, having covered the space for quite a while and it has been quite fun reporting on a number of big themes over the years, including the rise of passive investing.
But as to a specific story, I had my first “big read” in the FT – a feature story placed prominently in the newspaper – about the changing nature of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) process and capital markets. I wrote it with my colleague Miles Kruppa, and we looked at the changing nature of private capital at a time when public markets are losing their prominence. That was a big, chunky piece of work, and we had some really big names including Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, talking about it. That was fun to see on the page.
What are some of the key trends you’re covering in capital markets now?
Definitely the idea that there could be a bubble forming in private market investments. WeWork would be a classic example, where a company is able to access private capital very easily with fewer constraints and less scrutiny than public market investors give. I think that’s a big one that is going to keep playing out.
On the asset management side, there are a lot of different trends, including the impact of low-cost products across the board, whether its brokerages cutting their trading commissions to zero or providers offering S&P 500 Exchange Traded Funds for two or three basis points. There’s going to be a follow-on effect of this race to the bottom on fees across the asset management business. I think we’re going to see that play out in future years, and that means there’s going to be larger scale operators making it harder for small and medium-sized companies to compete.
How is technology intersecting with these challenges or changes?
Technology is making things cheaper and it’s allowing companies to cut costs and reduce headcounts. It also intensifies competition because the largest scale players can innovate more than other smaller companies as they have more resources and they can spend more. Technology is going to be one of the key ingredients in some of these dynamics; whether it’s the shift to passive investing and the intense competition for those assets or whether it’s this race towards zero fees, it is critical.
Social media is very much embedded in the role of a journalist today. How necessary is it to your current role?
You don’t have to be involved, but it is where the conversation plays out more than any other location. So, you should be there to just know what everyone’s talking about and because of that, I’d argue that it’s very important. I’m not crazy on Twitter in terms of the volume of my tweets, but I look at it every day. I often have TweetDeck on one of my screens depending on what I’m working on.
Do you have a preference for how communications professionals reach out to you?
I don’t have a great preference, but we can sometimes get up to 500 different types of communications every day, including pitches, press releases or invitations to events. While I do try to respond to the invitations, I generally don’t reply to press releases unless they are of interest. I generally only glance at the first few lines of a press release or even just the subject line to see if it’s relevant and then I’ll delete it after that.
I think a lot of reporters get a bit cranky when PR professionals call up after they send a press release saying, “Did you see this?”. I don’t mind the call, but it will probably be a very short one to say “Yes, I saw it. Not interested, thank you.”. You want to be polite, it’s just that we get such a high volume of pitches and press releases that we can’t respond to every single one.
What makes a good pitch?
First of all, if you’re pitching to an individual, you should know what their beat is. For example, I’ll get a lot of pitches that are around corporate credit and while I’m very interested in corporate credit, it’s not my beat.
What does a day in the life of Richard Henderson look like?
I usually get up around 6:30 am and either go for a run or go to the gym, and then try and come into work by about 8:30 am or 9:00 am. After that I go through emails to see what’s going on. We work to a UK print deadline because the FT is based in London, so if we are doing some sort of news coverage, it will need to be done by midday Eastern Time for our London-based editors. I generally don’t have any meetings scheduled before then.
But if there’s not something pressing like that, then I’ll be getting cracking with features that I’m working on or news coverage for later in the week. I do go to breakfast events and I generally talk to people or contacts in the afternoon. I have a massive preference for seeing people at our office rather than us go out, because we’re a fairly small group on the US Markets team here. The upshot is, it’s hard to spend too much time outside of the office, but I’ll try and dedicate a lot of my afternoon just to calling people, talking to people on the phone and meeting with sources either at our offices or around Manhattan.
What’s an ideal weekend for you?
It would be probably getting a lot of exercise in, seeing friends and socializing as much as I can because during the week, I’m pretty work focused. On Fridays I’ll usually go out for dinner in the city, and then Saturday we’ll probably spend the morning working out and the afternoon maybe catch a movie with some friends, and then Sunday is generally pretty relaxed. I might do some work on Sunday afternoon to get ready for the work week.
Other than the FT what other publications do you read?
I only ever read the FT, the world’s best newspaper. It’s setting the business agenda! But for other publications, because I cover finance, I have to be on Reuters and Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. The Economist is a bit of a leap because it’s a bit more feature-y, and not as news driven but it’s obviously a great publication. I also follow journalists who cover similar areas on Twitter, and I listen to podcasts from the FT and Slate Money with Felix Salmon.
You started as a paperboy and since then you’ve been immersed in the world of journalism. Who have you looked up to over the years or had a chance to work with that you really admire?
Robin Wigglesworth (FT’s US Markets Editor) hired me for the newspaper and he has taught me a lot this year about markets. It has been really fun to work alongside him. I’ve been reading his stuff for a long time and I still read all his stuff; as my colleague, I must know what he’s writing about.
Other than that, I am addicted to a radio show in Australia that has nothing to do with finance at all. It’s called Late Night Live with (writer and public intellectual) Phillip Adams. I probably dated myself by sharing that, but I’m addicted to it and I’ve been listening to it since I was 15. They interviewed a lot of reporters on that who are covering different stories and you just hear a lot of different stories from a lot of different types of fields beyond finance. So, I quite enjoy it.
Who would be your dream interview?
I’d probably be pretty keen to sit down with Warren Buffett at some point – that would be number one for me right now.