When Michael Delany retired from his high-profile competitive swimming career in the 1980s, he didn't think he would ever miss being in the pool. But, following a recent skiing accident, which resulted in a badly broken right arm requiring extensive reconstructive surgery and rehab, the swimmer-turned-broker has been unable to swim, and is finding it incredibly frustrating not to be in the water.
“It's interesting”, he says. “As I get older, I appreciate more the uniqueness of the club that I am in. As a youngster, when you make the Olympics and you have success (I still think Olympic silver is success, but it would have been nice to have got the gold), you don’t always appreciate it.
“At the time, it just felt like another high-level swimming meet, and, you know, to get to that level you do thousands of them from the age of seven or eight.
“But as I get older, with all the creaks and pains and other everyday challenges, I appreciate it a lot more.”
So, how does an Olympic athlete go from concentrating on the black line to thinking about the bottom line of a mortgage broking business? According to Mr Delany, his career shift is largely a result of his parent’s worth ethic.
He explains: “I was very lucky; you see a lot of former swimmers now falling by the wayside. The difference for me was that I had very strong parents and my mother said to me the day I got home [from the 1984 Olympics]: ‘Listen, we love you, we're proud of you, you've achieved a lot — but you've got to go and get a job today.’
“I said: ‘Doing what?’, and she said: ‘I don't care if you're sweeping the streets but I’m not going to have you lying around the house all day.’ That was literally the morning I had flown back in from Los Angeles! I look back on it now and am thankful for a mother and father like that. They kept my feet planted firmly on the ground.”
After a successful career in investment banking and running foreign exchange sales for Societe Generale, Mr Delany made the move into mortgages following a call from Mark Bouris AM.
“Mark Bouris rang me in the late 1990s and said: ‘I’m doing this thing called Wizard and we are going to take on the world. Do you want to be involved in it?’
“I admired Mark, and still do, and thought that it could be an opportunity. I also thought it would be a nice change, and, you know, my life has been about doing things, trying to succeed in them and then moving on to the next thing. I went through a stage where I didn’t want to be known as a swimmer. I wanted to get into the business world and achieve there,” Delany says.
“So, Mark taught me a lot about the business and I stuck pretty close with him. I listened and learned. But when he was moving on with GE and the Packers became involved in Wizard, it was clear to me that the choice was either to be part of that corporation, or to take what I had learned and do it myself. So I went to Mark and said: ‘Mate, I think I am going to go and have a crack at this myself.’”
Armed with experience and Olympic-level determination, Mr Delany launched Delany Financial in 2002 and has been busy with both home loans and — following a “nudge” from his aggregator Vow Financial — commercial loans too.
“It took a bit of nudging from the lads at Vow, but actually, [commercial] is nothing to be nervous about. It’s great. And do you know the other thing? It's good fun,” Mr Delany tells The Adviser.
“The trick with commercial is that you have to get the right people. I've found a terrific set of people that I work with, predominantly at ANZ. They have been really good to me, and vice versa — even with little things like returning your calls, or taking you seriously by saying “let’s get together and discuss this and meet and talk it through” — because it takes all the parties to get it done.
“So my advice to people going into commercial is: find the right contacts and the right people. I’ve found them by going to all the conferences, all the dinners and all the seminars and meeting the decision makers and forming relationships with them.”
Mr Delany’s enthusiasm for the profession is palpable, and he envisages that he could have a long career as a broker.
He says: “My father had office space in my office, and he was still doing conveyancing right up until he turned 80, and loved it. Once he stopped doing it, his zest for life changed. A lot.
“So, I think that as long as you are fit and healthy enough, and as long as you pace yourself properly, this is a business that you can do for many, many years. Providing you enjoy it. And I really love doing what I do. I love it. So, I can't imagine not doing it.”
He adds that his parents have been his motivation and inspiration all his life, and credits them, and his Olympic swim coach, Laurie Lawrence, as being his mentors.
“My parents were both successful people,” says Delany. “My mother, Maureen Duval [who passed away in 2013], was the face of David Jones for 30 years and had her own television show, Good Morning Sydney. My father was a successful lawyer with a pretty big practice. So they were my mentors in terms of teaching my brothers and me the value of hard work, and looking after people and looking after your clients. It was about not complaining, but getting in, getting dirty and getting on with it.
“I still speak to dad everyday: I'll ring him and tell him how I’m going, or he'll ring me if he hasn't heard from me already.
“I also still speak to Laurie once a week. He’ll ring me to talk about the election, or to find out how my arm is, or he'll ring me to ask how many loans I wrote this week. And if I tell him that I've had a slow week this week, or my arm is a bit sore, he'll say: “Ah, you're soft!” and get stuck into me, you know? He'll never change. He’s a fantastic man, a great Australian. He is almost like my conscience, Laurie. He makes a lot of sense to me. The great thing is he coached me to be an Olympic champion, and he's still coaching me to do the best I can today — through good times and bad times.”
The silver medallist says that although he doesn’t see the rest of the Mean Machine relay team often, they are still “very close mates”.
“I think with good friends you don't have to see them that often to remain lifelong friends. If there was — heaven forbid — a tragedy of some kind, they would be one of the first that would be on the phone, or they'd be there to see you. And vice versa,” he says.
“The Mean Machine was an interesting phenomenon, because we were all fighting to see who was going to swim the individual race. So, in many ways, we were very full-on competitors, but when it came to the relay and we were swimming for Australia, it all changed.
“I recall Ian Hanson, who was writing for The Daily Telegraph at the time, saying to us when we were marching through into the final: ‘Good luck boys, I've just spoken to my colleagues at home and they said most of Australia has stopped to watch this race.’ You can't have anything but a sense of wanting to do the best for your country when you hear that, so personal rivalries just don't exist when that is the case.”
He adds that the lessons learned from his swimming career have come in useful for his professional career too: “Sometimes you have to accept that someone on the day was better than you and be happy with that and be happy with your lot. I'm like that in life with everything. Because there will always be a better car, a bigger boat. If you start competing with everyone else all the time, and not just yourself, you'll send yourself nuts.”
Although Mr Delany’s injury is keeping him from swimming at the moment, he says that he will definitely be back in the water in future.
“I swim with a group of mates down at the local pool, probably three times a week. We do a couple of kilometres. It’s more like a man-cave really. We go and have a swim for an hour and then have a coffee for an hour. We talk about life and all of that sort of stuff. It’s not serious, but it is good. Keeps the heart beating.”
However, Mr Delany says that his attitude to swimming now is much different to how it used to be:
“It's interesting, a contrast [to my professional career]. When you are young it can be asinine counting the tiles and looking at the black line, but as I've got older it’s actually the opposite. There are no phones, no emails, no picking up the kids from school.
“I find it takes a lot of stress off me, because swimming means I just have an hour to myself. I don't want to sound selfish, but it’s important for your mind and body and soul to have that time.”
He adds: “With the iPhone nature of our businesses, if you don't have some time to turn off, no matter what you are doing, you'll burn yourself out.”
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