Rosemount founder and big spending billionaire Bob Oatley was profiled
by Angus Grigg in The AFRMagazine last week and there was quite a
theme about the lad being shy, retiring, private and under-stated.

However, the claim that Oatley is “the most private of Australia’s
buccaneering billionaires” doesn’t stack up. Australia’s lowest profile
billionaires are Melbourne’s Wilson family,
who control the Reece plumbing empire. Other Melbourne-based
billionaires who remain completely off the radar include the Liberman
family, John Gandel and David Hains.

None of them have done high profile things such as buying Hamilton
Island, winning the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race or co-operating with a
magazine cover story – as Oatley now has.

Grigg wrote that Oatley “has no tickets on himself” but the
know-it-all billionaire then declared that “Southcorp had all the
country’s top directors…but they never taught me anything.”

It sounds like Oatley was an intolerant dictator who for far too long
supported his son-in-law and Southcorp CEO, Keith Lambert, as he
completely stuffed the company. But then Oatley tried to blame the rest
of the board: “I was willing to do whatever I could to help, but I
don’t think they wanted my help. They knew it all.”

However, Lambert also eventually copped it in the neck but Oatley was
quick to claim most of the credit for Rosemount’s success. “He came into a
company that was properly organised. I think when he was out on his
own, when we merged with Southcorp, he no longer had anyone to guide
him. He did what he liked. He certainly didn’t refer anything to me. I
was surprised with some of his decision-making.”

So if Lambert didn’t listen to his father-in-law, why did Oatley defend
him to the last? “We fought for him for ages but, in the end, we just
had to stand back and let him go.”

It always seems to be someone’s else’s fault for Oatley who is so shy
and modest that he’s about to launch a new wine label called Oatley
Estate. Says it all really.

Peter Fray

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