Chooks must be less fun than newspapers. And journalists must be much better company. How else to explain why Australia’s chicken king Bob Ingham is packing it in and selling the farm at the tender age of 80, while Rupert Murdoch is still going strong at 81?
And how else to explain why none of Bob’s kids want to run the joint, while Rupert’s rugrats are all queuing up to have a go?
Somehow, owning a chicken nugget factory and chopping up chooks for Coles doesn’t quite have the same magic as the media, does it?
But Bob Ingham is almost as much of a legend in the hen house as Rupert Murdoch is in newspapers, and his company, Inghams, which sells more than $2 billion worth of chicken meat a year, is almost as dominant. Inghams’ history stretches back almost 100 years to the end of World War I in 1918, when Bob’s grandfather Walter bought 18 hectares of bushland on Sydney’s south-western fringe for his young son (also called Walter), who soon splashed out on six hens and cockerel.
But it was Bob and his elder brother Jack who built the empire, opening their first processing plant near Liverpool in 1958 and expanding rapidly as supermarkets and fast-food restaurants demanded ever-increasing quantities of packaged thighs, breasts, wings and chooks. In the mid-1970s the Inghams did a deal to supply KFC; in the mid 1990s, they built a factory to make chicken nuggets for McDonald’s.
By the time Jack died in 2003, leaving Bob as sole shareholder, the company was the biggest in the industry, supplying one in every three chickens sold in Australia.
For recreation, the two brothers bred racehorses, and became almost as successful in Australian racing as they were in chicken meat, with a huge breeding operation at Woodlands Stud in the upper Hunter Valley producing champions like Octagonal, Australia’s 1996 horse of the year, and his son Lonhro, who won 25 races from 36 starts and is now the nation’s leading sire.
Bob sold Woodlands in 2008 (with its two studs, 1000 horses, and racing stables in Sydney and Melbourne) to Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Rashid al-Maktoum, for close to $500 million, but he and his family still have around 40 horses in training, which carry their famous cerise colours. He also has a dozen brood mares.
Some of Bob’s four kids are involved in that, especially his youngest daughter, Debbie Kepitis. But as far as we know, none has yet started their own chicken farm. Son Robby has an extremely fashionable (and extraordinarily expensive) clothing store on Sydney’s Oxford Street, where I once bought a suit for $2500, which was half price.
Not much in common with chickens there, one has to admit. Cockerels perhaps.