Corporate lawyer and company director Adam Schwab writes:




Stephen Mayne, Gary Morgan and Michael Pascoe have produced some great lists of
Australia’s
best businesspeople but there are a few
names which warrant further
mention.

The under-rated

While
Mayne, Morgan and Pascoe all had Rupert Murdoch
on their lists, no one actually highlighted the fact that Murdoch is
in a sense, the Bradman of Australian business. Unlike Packer (who inherited
around $100 million from Sir Frank), Murdoch’s inheritance wasn’t overly
significant (all he inherited from his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, was
Adelaide’s second
newspaper) and he now has a fortune which, according to Forbes, is worth more
than AUD$9 billion. What makes Murdoch’s feats even more
impressive is that he has built his empire and fortune in one of the most
established and competitive industries (media) by continually betting the farm
and winning. Murdoch took on and beat the established Australian newspaper
proprietors, then conquered England and
finally made his mark in the US through
newspapers, and then television. While the last eight years haven’t been
Murdoch’s finest, he remains arguably one of the most powerful people in the
world.

Unfairly
lumped with Bond, Spalvins and Skase by Morgan, Robert
Holmes a Court
deserves a mention. While he was hit
hard by the 1987 stock market crash, there was arguably no more feared raider
during the 1980s than the former South African lawyer. His attempted takeover
of BHP scared the hell out of the Melbourne
establishment and at one stage the wily South African even took on US
behemoths such as Texaco and USX. Unlike many of the other 1980’s corporate
raiders, he knew when to pack up stumps and sell out. Admittedly, Holmes a
Court didn’t cover himself in glory by selling out to Bond (and SGIC, in a move
that arguable breached corporation laws), who then proceeded to steal a billion
dollars from Bell Resources.

As a true “rags-to-riches” tale,
that of Sidney Myer
must rank very highly. Only a few years after emigrating from
Russia with
literally nothing, Simcha Baevski built
Australia’s most
famous retailer from the ground up. Myer later married into the blue-blood
Baillieu family and never looked back. Not only was he a groundbreaking
businessman, but he also remains, even in death, one of
Australia’s greatest
philanthropists. The Myer family carries on the tradition to this
day.

While Kerry Packer was dubbed as
Australia’s greatest
businessman by John Howard and mentioned by Mayne and Morgan, it was his
grandfather Clyde, and his
father, Sir Frank Packer, who created the Packer empire. Sir Frank
Packer
used his success with the Australian Woman’s Weekly to acquire the
Channel Nine stations in Melbourne and Sydney. While Kerry certainly knew when to
sell an asset, Sir Frank was the real father of the Packer empire.

The
over-rated

Morgan gave a special mention to his
friend John Elliott
as a “saviour” of BHP. While Elliott was a major player in the
infamous Elders-BHP cross shareholding back in 1984, Morgan should also have
mentioned that Elliott’s private buyout company, Harlin Holdings, went bust after
Elders nearly toppled in the early 1990s (it was ironically placed under
administration by BHP). In addition, Elliott’s rice venture Water Wheel also
went broke (Elliott is currently banned from acting as a company director as a
result of Water Wheel being found to have traded while insolvent). Elliott’s
personal ventures in Russia flunked and
he suffered the ultimate ignominy in 2005 when he was declared bankrupt, owing
creditors more than $9 million. To top it off, the once great Carlton Football
Club (where Elliott was president from 1983 until 2002) needs urgent AFL funding
or it will allegedly not be able to pay its players.

Similarly,
Stephen
Mayne gave an honourable mention to Peter
Scanlon
. While Scanlon was an excellent AFL commissioner, and has
brilliantly steered Lang Corp through the waterfront dispute and the recent
takeover by Toll (amassing a $400 million fortune in the process), he was still a
very senior executive at Elders IXL – once Australia’s largest company (by
revenue), which almost went bankrupt, culminating in a $1.3 billion write-down
in 1992.

Pascoe also dubbed former American
BHP boss Paul Anderson
as one of Australia’s best
businessman. Anderson certainly
did undertake a solid turnaround at BHP, however it
could be argued that BHP’s recent success can be attributed to booming
commodities prices rather than brilliant management. Further, BHP’s merger with
Billiton occurred
under Anderson’s watch and
probably cost BHP shareholders around $3 billion (by virtue of BHP grossly
overpaying for Billiton’s
highly-risky and poor quality assets). Anderson cleared the
decks well, but didn’t create great value, like Sir Ian McLennan
did.

Peter Fray

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