Rupert Murdoch (1931- )
Stands out clearly as Australia’s most successful
businessman – now an American for convenience. He is the only Australian
who rates as one of the “all time” world’s top businessmen. His father
Sir Keith Murdoch, a self-made journalist, died when Rupert was in his early
20s. Rupert Murdoch “punted” his then relatively small Australian newspaper
business to expand internationally in the UK and US.
Kerry Packer (1937-2005)
Like Rupert Murdoch, Packer inherited a significant
media business from his father, Sir Frank. However, both Packer and
Murdoch significantly enhanced their fathers’ media empire as a result of their
own unique skills. Packer, having taken control after Sir Frank died in
1974, immediately used the skills of his senior executives to maximum effect (I
mention some of them in my paper ‘Everyone
knows the difference between right and wrong’).
Packer and his team became “the masters” of cross marketing (promoting)
celebrities, specific Packer magazines and TV programs in Packer’s many magazines
and Channel Nine.
Frank Lowy (1936- )
In 1958 Lowy and Jack Saunders developed their first
shopping centre at Bankstown,
New South Wales. By the
mid-1980s, Lowy was head of property giant Westfield Holdings, changing the
structure of the industry by constructing massive shopping centres, not only in
Australia but in the US and Britain.
Together with John O’Neil, Lowy is responsible for the revitalisation of
the Australian Soccer Industry.
Sir Arvi Parbo (1926- )
In 1956 began a long career with Western Mining
Corporation (WMC), initially working as an underground surveyor and mining
engineer. Appointed General Manager in 1968 and Managing Director in
1971, Parbo was Chairman during a period of rapid expansion and diversification
(1974-91). He was also a Director (1987-89) and Chairman (1989-92) of BHP
and Chairman of Alcoa from 1978 -1996.
Victor Smorgon (1913- )
Butcher from the Ukraine,
Gershon Smorgon arrived in Melbourne
in 1927. By World War II Smorgon was running an expanding
abattoir and meat-export business, as well as a food canning works.
However, Smorgon’s big break came after the War when in 1948 he
American meat importers to buy Australian rabbit meat – a market he
Geoffrey Donaldson (1913- )
Began his career working for Perpetual Trustees, rising to the level of
Senior Trust Officer before joining the War effort in 1939. After
returning, Donaldson continued to show his unique ability to survive, this time
in the Stock Broking business, especially when it came to raising money and
underwriting Woodside Oil Co new share issues. For 28 years Donaldson was
Woodside’s Chairman. The company made major gas and condensate discoveries near
Broome and Dampier in WA. Today, with BHP Billiton, it is Australia’s premier oil and gas company.
Reginald Ansett (1909-1981)
In 1931 founded his first transport business using a
Studebaker car to run passenger services between Ballarat and Maryborough. In
1935 Ansett began a daily Melbourne-Hamilton air service with only one aircraft
– by 1946 this had developed into Ansett Transport Industries. Between 1957-1990 Ansett Airlines monopolised the
Australian air services industry, with the Government-owned Trans-Australia
Airlines (TAA) its only competitor.
Lang Hancock (1909-1992)
Hancock was a part-time prospector and a pioneer of
the “aerial prospecting” method. In 1936 Hancock found blue asbestos in
Wittenoom Gorge – which he began mining commercially two years later. Hancock’s
most famous find was in 1952 when he found the world’s largest iron ore deposit
in the Pilbara region. He struck a royalty agreement with the mining
giant Rio Tinto and subsequently became one of Australia’s wealthiest people.
Sir Ian McLennan (1909-1998)
McLennan’s family owned and operated flour mills in
Mooroopna near Shepparton. In the late 1960s the flour business merged
with the Kimpton and Minifie flour mills, before in 1972 merging with Henry
Jones (IXL) and in 1981 Elders GM (Chairman of Elders IXL 1981-1985). Ian McLennan was responsible for the significant
Post-War expansion of Australia’s
iron and steel industry, and established Australia’s
export of iron ore to Japan.
He joined the BHP Board of Directors in 1953, becoming Senior General Manager
in November 1955. In the late 1950s, Ian McLennan negotiated with Lewis Weeks
to take BHP into oil and gas exploration in Bass Strait.
In April 1971, Ian McLennan was appointed Chairman of BHP, a position he
held until his retirement in 1977.
Sir Keith Murdoch (1885-1952)
Started as a freelance journalist for The Age in 1903 and as an Age cadet in the Federal Press Gallery
in 1910. By the time he died in 1952 Murdoch was Chairman of The Herald and Weekly Times, Australia’s
largest media company. At the same time he became a newspaper proprietor in his
own right. Murdoch purchased the West Australian in 1926 as part
of a syndicate, which he sold in the early 1930s. By the 1930s Murdoch
had a stake in, or owned outright, the Adelaide Register
and Advertiser, Brisbane’s Daily Mail
and Courier (which became the Courier-Mail), as well as interests
in 11 of Australia’s
65 commercial radio stations. Murdoch’s Queensland
newspaper interests were sold to pay death duties leaving the Adelaide News to
his four children.
He was responsible for changing the way Australian
companies reported profits by publishing their profits in the afternoon Melbourne Herald the day they were
released to the Melbourne Stock Exchange rather than in the following day’s
Keith Murdoch was responsible for introducing public opinion polling in Australia,
‘designed to reveal what Australians thought of important questions of the day’.
In 1940 he sent Roy Morgan to America
to learn the public opinion polling and advertising/media research business
with Dr George Gallup. Results from media research surveys conducted by
Sir Keith Murdoch in the 1940s were used as the basis for the layout and
content of The Sun News-Pictorial (Today, Herald-Sun), which became and still
largest circulating daily newspaper.
Sir George Coles (1885-1977)
Coles opened his first store in Collingwood in 1914,
selling stock purchased in America.
After serving in WWI, Coles returned to Melbourne,
opening a larger store in 1919 and launching a proprietary company in
1921. During his time as Managing Director the Coles Company expanded
rapidly, opening many stores in Melbourne and Sydney. Although relinquishing
Managing Director due to poor health, Coles stayed on a Chairman until
1956. In his later years Coles dedicated most of his time to charity work
and was knighted for his efforts in 1957.
Sidney Myer (1878-1934)
After migrating to Australia
in 1898 he ran a draper’s store in Bendigo
with his brother, Elcon Baevski. In 1911 he established a drapery shop in
Bourke Street, Melbourne before opening the 8 story Myer
Emporium in 1914. A dedicated philanthropist and benefactor, he financed
Charles Kingsford Smith’s 1928 trans-Pacific flight.
Sir Walter Carpenter (1877-1954)
W.R. Carpenter & Co. Ltd. was founded by Walter
Randolph Carpenter (later to become Sir Walter) in 1914 as a small private
Carpenter’s fortune was amassed during the 1930s
depression when his company was able to buy many island plantations at bedrock
prices. During the depression his company maintained its dividend rate
unchanged at 8 per cent.
At their peak W.R. Carpenter operated nine major
companies (plus subsidiaries) in Fiji
and New Guinea and fourteen
(plus subsidiaries) in Australia
Using retained earnings W R Carpenter & Co
purchased substantial shareholdings in Southern Pacific Insurance, Associated
Securities, CAGA, Dalton Brothers Holdings, Ansett Transport Industries,
Neon Holdings and Woolworths.
Achalen Woolliscroft Palfreyman (1875-1967)
Aged 14 he began working at Launceston’s Examiner
but soon moved to Peacock’s Jam Factory, which he took over in 1891 with fellow
employees including Henry Jones. Palfreyman remained a Director of Henry
Jones IXL for 74 years and succeeded Jones as Chairman (1926-65). The
company expanded internationally and diversified into fruit production, construction,
prospecting and tin dredging.
William Lawrence Baillieu (1859-1936)
Left bankrupt after the 1890s depression, Baillieu
diversified into many industries including media (Herald and Weekly Times),
mining and pastoral ventures, netting large profits. Baillieu directed many
companies and became known as “Australia’s
money King”, running his empire with other members of his family and colleagues
(W S Robinson, Lindesay Clark, etc) from Collins House in Melbourne.
John Darling Jnr (1852-1914)
Darling, known as Australia’s “Wheat King”,
reinvested profits from his father’s (John Darling) then relatively small wheat
and flour business in BHP and other companies. He became Chairman of BHP in
1907 and was responsible for redirecting BHP from mining to steel
In 1911 John Darling sent BHP General Manager G. D.
Delprat to America to study
the steel industry and engage experts to assist BHP in launching into steel
production in Australia.
In March 1915 the first BHP blast furnace was opened in Newcastle.
Sir James Burns (1846-1923)
In 1867 Burns travelled to the Gympie goldfields
selling stores to miners and buying gold. By 1872 Burns had opened a
store in Townsville. In addition he operated a small steamer between Normanton
and Thursday Island with agencies for many
other trading companies. A network of shipping services, stores and plantations
extended throughout the islands.
Burns Philp and Co. was founded in Sydney in 1883 by James Burns and Robert
Philp. By 1910 Burns, Philp and Co. was one of Australia’s leading companies.
Burns remained Chairman and Managing Director until 1923.
Alfred Felton (1831-1904)
In 1953 migrated from England
to Victoria where he it is said he made his
money on the goldfields, before establishing himself as a merchant in Melbourne. By 1861,
Felton was operating as a wholesale druggist in Swanston Street.
In 1867 Felton went into partnership with F.S.
Grimwade to form Felton, Grimwade & Co. which became Australia’s largest drug
house. During this time Felton built business interests in New Zealand and Western Australia that included the
Melbourne Glass Bottle Works, the Adelaide Chemical Works Co. and Australian
Salt Manufacturing Co. He bequest a large estate – half to Victorian charities
and half to the National Gallery of Victoria which purchased more than 15,000
works of art making the collection one of the most significant in the world.
Edward Knox (1819-1901)
Arrived from Denmark in 1839 and became General
Manager of the Australasian Sugar Company (ASC).In 1855 he formed the Colonial
Sugar Refinery (CSR), with capital of £150,000, to takeover
By 1908, seven years after Knox’s death, the CSR owned
13 mills and five refineries – a total productive capacity of 260,000 tons a
Frederick Grimwade, Rupert Henderson, W.S. Robinson, Hugh
McKay, Walter Hall,
Robert Barr Smith, Harry Howard Smith, Samuel Hordern.
No list could include any of the 1980 entrepreneurs
such as Robert Holmes-a-Court, John Spalvins, Alan Bond, Christopher Skase or
my friend, John Elliott – even though for a period of time, they were all
looked on as the doyens of Australian industry. Moreover, today there would be
no BHP if it were not for John Elliott, Peter Scanlon, Brian Loton, Sir James
Balderstone and John Baillieu.
In my paper, ‘Doing
Business Globally – Marketing “Brand Melbourne’, I have outlined the
contribution John Elliott made to Melbourne
while Chairman of the Committee for Melbourne.
I doubt I would have been asked to compile this Crikey
List of the top
20 Australian business people of all time if my father (who worked in the office next to Sir Keith’s for more
than 13 years) had accepted Rupert’s offer in the 1950’s, following Sir Keith’s
death in 1952, to move to Adelaide to help him run the Adelaide News!
Compiled from knowledge passed to me from my father,
Roy Morgan, and the following four publications:
1. The 60 Families Who Own Australia, by E.W. Campbell (1963);
Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Australia, edited by
John Arnold and Deidre Morris (1994);
Murdoch, Founder of a Media Empire, by R.M. Younger (2003); and
4. The All-Time Australian 200 Rich List from
Samuel Terry ‘The Convict Rothschild’ to Kerry Packer; by William D. Rubinstein
Morgan – June 23, 2006