As a professional critic of business, it
doesn’t come easily to suddenly start lauding our “greatest ever”
business figures over the past 25 years, but the Crikey bosses have
asked so here goes. Given I’m the first of several to show the hand,
this effort is only alphabetical and the final rankings will come later:

Sir Ron Brierley:
the only real survivor of the 1980s takeover entrepreneurs who built
IEL into a powerhouse, knew when to sell for a great price to rival
John Spalvins at Adsteam and still one of the great corporate
strategists who continues to create value for his latest vehicle GPG.

Michael Chaney:
quadrupled the value of the once unfashionable conglomerate Wesfarmers
through a combination of brilliant execution (Bunnings) and sensible
acquisitions. A thoroughly worthy Business Council President and new
chairman of NAB and Woodside.

Roger Corbett: Flogging
other people’s stuff is not usually Hall of Fame material but Crusher
Corbett has done it better than anyone over the past decade,
quadrupling the Woolworths share price and going past rival Coles Myer
on every measure.

Nobby Clark: resisted the temptations of
deregulation and foreign competition to entrench NAB as our biggest
bank at a time when listed rivals Westpac and ANZ almost went broke.
Also pioneered the profitable move into the UK while ANZ and Westpac
floundered with their foreign operations, and served with distinction as
the fix-it chairman of Coles Myer and Foster’s.

David Clarke:
While Allan Moss and Nicholas Moore deserve the majority of the credit
for Macquarie Bank’s infrastructure bonanza, none of this would have
happened if Clarke hadn’t co-founded the bank in the early 1970s and
remained as executive chairman to this day.

David Clarke: The building materials industry is hardly glamorous, but the success of Rinker has
been staggering and the other David Clarke has been a director since
1987 and CEO since 1992. While so many others have crashed and burned
in the US, Rinker is now capitalised at $15.4 billion.

John Cloney:
has been the CEO or chairman of QBE Insurance for all but seven months
of the last 25 years and after more than 20 acquisitions the $17
billion company is now a genuine international player in a tough global

Sir Rod Eddington: There have been other more
successful Australians offshore but Eddington qualifies because he
returned to Australia to run Ansett for four years and engineer a
profitable exit for News Corp. Is now back in Melbourne as a
professional director with the likes of News Corp and Rio Tinto. The
successful stints running Cathay Pacific and British Airways are what
puts Sir Rod on the top shelf.

Dr Peter Farrell: founded
the sleep-disorder products company Resmed 17 years ago and remains
chairman and CEO today of a company worth $4.3 billion with a global
leadership position. A rare feat indeed in a country which usually
serves up government-dependent service-sector business success stories.

David Gonski: along
with Peter Scanlon and Graeme Samuel, one of the three smartest blokes
that corporate Australia has produced. A brilliant corporate lawyer and
investment banker whose work over the years for the likes of Kerry
Packer and Frank Lowy has been complemented with impressive stints as
chairman of Coca Cola Amatil and Hoyts, plus various not-for-profit

Wal King: My first ever corporate dinner as a
first year cadet in 1989 was with the Leighton boss who was spruiking a
modest $9 million half year profit. Leighton is now easily the biggest
player in the tough construction industry, and 2005-06 profit is tipped
to rise 20% to a record $260 million. Successful expansion into Asia
and the Middle East have capped a stellar career for King, who will
notch up 20 years as CEO next year.

Paul Little: Starting
with a $2.5 million management buyout of a small Pilbara-based
transport company 20 years ago, the Toll Holdings boss now dominates
Australia’s transport and logistics industry and is worth more than
$500 million to boot.

Frank Lowy: went from nothing to
controlling the world’s biggest shopping centre empire, delivering
spectacular returns for investors while building a personal fortune
worth $5.4 billion with uninterrupted profit growth. Buying Channel Ten
was the only blemish and the ethics are sometimes questionable, but
Westfield is now worth $30 billion and Australia needs many more Frank

Brian McNamee: Few Australian companies have
global leadership in a sector, let alone in a business as tough as
healthcare, but CSL’s CEO for the past 17 years has transformed a
sleepy government business that was floated at $2.40 a share in 1994
into the world’s biggest blood products company with a market
capitalisation of almost $10 billion and a share price at $53.

Chris Morris:
Australia seriously lacks IT entrepreneurs and companies which take on
the world and Computershare is both, having developed great home grown
systems and then taken them to global leadership of share registry
management, thanks largely to a raft of well executed acquisitions.

Allan Moss:
Macquarie Bank floated ten years ago at $6 a share, so Moss has
delivered an 11-fold return while trouncing the Wall Street majors in
Australia and pioneering the Millionaire Factory’s extraordinary binge
to become the world’s biggest non-government owner and manager of
infrastructure asset. Deserves every penny of his ridiculous $21
million pay packet.

Rupert Murdoch: inherited an estate
in October 1952 worth $9 million in today’s dollars and now owns more
than $10 billion worth of shares in a $90 billion company which is
clearly the world’s most global media empire. Controversial as ever
with Fox News and Iraq war boosterism but for value creation and
successful risk-taking he’s hard to be beat.

Kerry Packer:
certainly not the greatest, as John Howard claimed, but sheer
ruthlessness and ability to work pliant governments created a fortune
that only Rupert Murdoch can beat. However, he started with $100 million
and spent far too much time spending it rather than building what could
have become a globally significant empire if he hadn’t been so

Gary Pemberton: Many successful CEOs
later crash on the board circuit and get criticised for never “owning”
a business but Pemberton has done it all. Started with a stellar
11-year stint as CEO of Brambles, followed by excellent performance as
chairman of Qantas and the NSW TAB. He then bought into Billabong and
was the chairman who floated it and took it to the world, creating a
$200 million personal fortune.

Dick Pratt: Australia’s
third richest man has achieved Australian packaging dominance, five-star
environmental performance and successful offshore expansion without
having to raise a dollar of outside equity.

Honourable mentions:
Doug Rathbone, Peter Scanlon, James Strong, Chris Corrigan, Gordon
Merchant, Gerry Harvey, John Ralph, David Murray, Sir Arvi Parbo, David
Hains, Frank O’Halloran, Leon Davis and John Grill.

Email your suggestions to [email protected].

Tomorrow: Gary Morgan’s top 20.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey