Australia-based company expands its Jacksonville global financial services office to 272 employees.
Macquarie Group Ltd. CEO Shemara Wikramanayake visited Jacksonville for the first time last week, but she already knew a lot about the city.
Wikramanayake was promoted to chief executive last year, but she has worked at the Australia-based financial services company for more than 30 years and was a member of the executive committee that decided in 2015 to establish a global financial services office in Jacksonville.
“I was involved in the decision,” said Wikramanayake during her visit to the office in the Riverplace Tower at 1301 Riverplace Blvd. on the Southbank.
“We thought there was a really good talent pool here,” she said.
Macquarie has been so impressed with the Northeast Florida workforce that the company has expanded well beyond its initial agreement with the city to create 123 jobs.
The office has 272 employees, growing by 38% in the past year alone, with 85% of the workers hired locally, Wikramanayake said. It occupies two floors of the 28-story tower
The company has hired graduates from the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University and offered internships to students, and is working with the institutions on workforce development programs.
Although most of the employees were hired locally, the company proudly displays a global map with pins showing the workers came to Jacksonville from 27 countries.
“It’s a very diverse workforce,” said Wikramanayake, who said 58% of the top-level managers in the Jacksonville office are female and a majority of the staff are women.
Wikramanayake has a diverse background. She was born in England into a family from Sri Lanka and then moved to Australia.
Some news reports said she is the only female CEO among Australia’s 20 largest companies and also is the first Asian-Australian woman to lead an ASX 200 company, the Australian Securities Exchange’s equivalent of the S&P 500.
When asked about those distinctions, Wikramanayake said she was unaware because gender and ethnicity don’t matter to her.
“Your character is not really dictated by that,” she said.
“We’re trying to create a meritocracy where talent comes through.”
Macquarie’s office features an open design that promotes a collaborative atmosphere. Workers are given flexibility to schedule hours around personal needs and even work from home, with the expectation they will be able to get the job done.
“You get rewarded for what you deliver,” Wikramanayake said.
Besides the quality of the labor pool, Wikramanayake said other factors influencing Macquarie’s decision to open the office included Northeast Florida’s attractive lifestyle and that “it was in the right time zone” to support the company’s operations.
Anthony Glenn, the head of the Jacksonville office for Macquarie, said recruitment efforts by economic officials helped to sway the company’s decision.
“JAXUSA (Partnership) and the Jacksonville Chamber went the extra mile,” he said.
“The people side has proven out as well,” Glenn said.
Wikramanayake visited Jacksonville after spending the early part of last week at the United Nations in New York, speaking to the UN Climate Action Summit as part of Macquarie’s commitment to promoting renewable energy. The company intends to develop projects generating 20 gigawatts of renewable energy over the next five years.
“That’s enough to power half of Australia’s eastern seaboard,” she said.
The trip to the U.S. gave Wikramanayake the opportunity to visit Jacksonville and a couple of other Macquarie offices.
Macquarie has 2,800 U.S. employees in 22 locations, and it expects to continue to expand the Jacksonville office. Since opening with finance functions, the Jacksonville office has added staff for other operations including risk management, human resources and information technology.
“We’re always in discussions about what else might move here,” Glenn said.
He said Macquarie doesn’t have a target for how big the Jacksonville office will be.
“There’s no real projection but I’m confident we’ll continue to grow,” he said.