The magazine that has executives scurrying into the Canterbury and Double Bay news agencies just got a little better this year, with BRW compiling a ‘Hall of Fame’ of every Rich Lister who has appeared since 1984. The Hall of Fame is arguably more fascinating than the actual list, detailing all former members of the list and the year their wealth peaked.
There have certainly been some colourful characters to grace the pages of Australia’s wealth bible.
FAI boss, Larry Adler was one of Australia’s richest men when he died in 1988, allegedly worth $380 million. Not long after his death, the house of cards known as FAI (which included loans to debt-funded entrepreneurs like Alan Bond) began to unravel. Son Rodney appeared on the list for around a decade before spending time in jail for misleading a journalist.
At the height of his powers, Alan Bond peaked at $400 million back in 1987 – Bondy is back on the list this year with $265 million, thanks to some helpful Swiss bankers. Bondy’s return is all the more remarkable given that he declared bankruptcy (eventually paying creditors around half a cent in the dollar) and was found guilty for a breach of director’s duties after pilfering $1.2 billion from Bell Resources shareholders. For his crimes, Bond served less than four years jail. At the time of his release, the Sydney Morning Herald dryly noted that “a Northern Territory man was sentenced to one year’s jail for stealing $23 worth of cordial and biscuits. Had the same formula been applied to Bond, he would have been in jail for 50 million years.” Bondie also had an unfortunate mix up involving La Promenade which led to another jail term. Although you have to hand it to the British migrant, he must be one of the few people to have ever recovered from brain damage.
The Elders boys dominated the late 1980s Lists. Colourful CEO John Elliott was worth $70 million in 1989 before finally descending into bankruptcy in 2005 following the collapse of his Water Wheel rice business. Former Test cricketer and Elders executive, Bob Cowper was worth $100 million in 1987 after joining fellow Elders alum and John Elliott’s best man, Richard Wiesener (worth $80 million in 1987) in Monaco (both aren’t on the list any more but probably should be).
Other Elders’ executives, Geoff Lord ($115 million in 2005) and Peter Scanlon ($640 million this year) were able to grow their wealth which Ken Jarrett alleged originated from a controversial convertible bond deal involving BHP. Jarrett later served jail time while the Elders four escaped courtesy of a technical judicial error.
Allan “the Hawk” Hawkins, the Trans-Tasman entrepreneur who did go to jail for his dealing with Elders was allegedly worth $328 million in 1987. Hawkins offence related to BHP’s takeover defense from a hostile Robert Holmes a Court bid in 1985. Two years later, the South African lawyer was worth a massive $1.4 billion in 1987 before being severely weakened out by the 1987 crash and dying from a heart attack several years later.
Former Gribbles boss and tax lawyer, Wallace Cameron, who is still awaiting committal for numerous while collar offences, made it on the list fleetingly, notching up $80 million in 2003.
Wine lover and anti-racism campaigner Mel Gibson made it onto the list seven times, peaking in 1998 with $115 million.
Jodee Rich has the inglorious honour of twice being booted from the list. Jodee and his father Steven were worth $50 million in 1988 courtesy of the Imagineering computer business. Rich was also worth $775 million in 1999 when One.Tel peaked. One suspects it won’t be third time lucky for Jodee.
Lest we forget the infamous 1980s paper millionaires. Spedley Securities boss, Brian Yuill was allegedly worth $25 million in 1987 – Spedley collapsed in 1989. Adsteam chief, John Spavins, spent three years on the list (peaking at $50 million in 1987) before Adsteam’s cross-shareholding structure fell apart, weighed down by a mountain of debt (later emerging as the listed Adsteam Marine, Woolworths and David Jones). “Last Resort” Laurie Connell was apparently worth $80 million in 1987, which would have to remain one of BRW’s more embarrassing listings given Laurie was probably technically bankrupt at the time.
Philanthropist, Sir Donald Trescowthick spent a full 16 years on the list. Sadly, the Trescowthick name no longer adorns the list, after the collapse Harris Scarfe in 2001. Sir Donald’s son, Adam Trescowthick was charged with 27 dishonesty offences but ASIC later dropped the charges.
Perhaps F Scott Fitzgerald put it best when he noted the rich are very different from you and me.