Australia: The eighties boomers - down but not out? (2 of 5)

Australia: The eighties boomers - down but not out? (2 of 5) - There were other Australasian entrepreneurs: New Zealanders such as Bruce Judge and Alan Hawkins and fellow Australians such as Kevin Parry, a discount furniture salesman who grew to own asse

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There were other Australasian entrepreneurs: New Zealanders such as Bruce Judge and Alan Hawkins and fellow Australians such as Kevin Parry, a discount furniture salesman who grew to own assets ranging from TV stations (naturally) to mini-submarine consultancies. Seeking to emulate Bond, perhaps, Parry went on to mount his own challenge to the America's Cup yachting trophy (like television, a popular reef for Australian tycoons). And the youthful Russell Goward of Westmex, who rose almost without financial trace to run a hot-shot operation straddling oil exploration and textiles manufacture, shoe retailing and deer farming. For two years he was the media's favourite self-made millionaire, dashing back and forth between London and Sydney doing ever more daring deals.

They were Australia's New Breed: brash, bold, but above all successful. They were lionised by Government ministers (who now cringe at the recollection), idolised by get-rich-quick investors and adored, altogether too uncritically, by financial analysts, who later admitted that they mistook mere paper shuffling for genuine wealth creation. As one financial expert later wrote: "After having to import entrepreneurs for much of its history, Australia was beginning to pride itself on producing businessmen of imagination and daring."

No longer. Today, as the respected Australian Financial Review noted in a sombre leader, entrepreneur has become a distinctly perjorative term. Entrepreneurs, some of whom now face court action over their corporate activities, are generally reviled. As Western Australia's new premier, Carmen Lawrence, now trying to clear up the mess left by "WA Inc" - the name now given to the complex and sometimes allegedly corrupt relationship between the Western Australian Government and its entrepreneurs - remarked: "There are people out there who should not be walking on the streets. Lawyers and accountants can protect these business types in a way that the ordinary, say, shoplifter cannot be."

Their whizz-kid stocks, embraced so enthusiastically during the '80s, have been ditched in favour of the old-style, blue chip dependables. No more are Bond Corporation, The Bell Group (the old Holmes a Court company later sold to Bond), Elders IXL and Qintex to be found performing like meteors among the market leaders. Even Adelaide Steamship, the group created by John Spalvins, lies in ruins; its assets were sound enough, but in the new, more austere post-entrepreneurial climate, the market simply did not like its byzantine structure and money-go-round methods.

Today Australia's top 10 companies, by market capitalisation, typically comprise two banks, five minerals/miners, two manufacturers and one retailer. Of the old high flyers, only Foster's, comprising the restructured brewing assets of Elders IXL, comes close to the top. Significantly, the list is headed by two solid, slow but sure performers, BHP and BTR Nylex.

Ostentation, too, is out. As the so-called Lucky Country has drifted into deep recession, with unemployment of around 10%, national debt at record levels and projected budget surpluses dwindling, so divisions between the nation's haves and have-nots have widened. Bob Gottliebsen, whose magazine Business Review Weekly (BRW) compiles an annual list of Australia's wealthiest, says: "Right now it is not fashionable to be rich."

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