The big surprise in this year’s BRW’s Rich 200 is not the reappearance of Alan Bond, though that remarkable rebound to number 157 on the BRW magazine list with a fortune of an alleged $265 million is incredible. It’s the classification of David Hains, the low-key Melbourne based financier as a “double billionaire” and the tenth richest individual in Australia.
Hains is without doubt the Rich 200’s weakest entry. And it is by no means David Hains’ fault. Hains has been, well, “victim” is hardly the right word, but the subject surely of some stretched research conclusions.
Now 77, Hains is without question a very wealthy man, but a billionaire twice over? There’s no evidence. Many years ago Hains came to prominence when he ran a national retail chain. At the peak of his career he became involved in a range of business enterprises. The most significant of his publicly listed activities was his stint as president of a steel syndicate which briefly took control of the US-based Wheeling Pittsburgh steel corporation.
The money made by Hains in 1970’s at Wheeling Pitsburgh has been used by the Rich 200 list as the basis of the Hains fortune. But there is one problem — the calculation assumed Hains got virtually all the money made by the syndicate. In reality Hains probably received only a portion of the syndicate’s fortune.
The Wheeling Pittsburgh fortune has now been compounding away in the Hains Rich List file for decades and suddenly Hains is supposed to be wealthier than, say, Gerry Harvey, a “provable” fortune registered this year at $1.62 billion.
In more recent times Hains has lived a quiet life mostly engaged with his Collins Street-based finance company, Portland House, run by his son Stephen. Portland House is an admirable company involved in many charities. But again any tangible evidence of serious money being made at Portland House is nowhere to be seen.
At one stage the understanding of the Hains fortune was so minimal the valuation was simply indexed to the average annual return of a BT balanced managed fund. More recently, the researchers had a small break when they unearthed a bond rating linked with Portland House but they are still shooting in the dark.
The magazine can’t even get a picture of the so called “reclusive” tycoon, the photo used this year is from 1982. But I saw Hains the other day pulling into Portland House. He’s not that reclusive.
In truth, the creation that David Hains is a double billionaire is sustained by silence. Hains never speaks in public about his Rich List valuation, or anything else for that matter. BRW never get firm details on the fortune. In effect it’s an insurance against the valuation ever unravelling.
If Hains is a double billionaire I’ll eat my copy of this year’s Rich List. How a family supposedly worth $2 billion could never — and I mean never — appear to be involved in any significant business deals for two decades and stay in the same league as the Lowys, Packers or, dare I say it, Alan Bonds, is the biggest mystery on the Rich List.
Disclosure: James Kirby worked on BRW from 1998-2004. This is an edited extract of a story appearing in tonight’s editon of Eureka Report.