Australia: The eighties boomers - down but not out? (3 of 5)

Australia: The eighties boomers - down but not out? (3 of 5) - Not surprisingly, some commentators have revelled in the sight of Australia's high flyers, almost without exception, crashing dramatically to earth. Indeed, when Kerry Packer, a more conserva

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Not surprisingly, some commentators have revelled in the sight of Australia's high flyers, almost without exception, crashing dramatically to earth. Indeed, when Kerry Packer, a more conservative proprietor whose cash-heavy business empire grew substantially at the expense of his more reckless rivals in recent years, had a heart attack last year, one leading journal reported that Australia had "come within minutes of losing its last businessman of international stature". (American citizen Rupert Murdoch does not really count, and in any case his News Corporation remains beset by enormous debt problems despite extensive restructuring.)

And what of the others? Apart from brief appearances in court and before the Inquiry Commission, "Bondy" is rarely seen in public these days. He resigned several months ago from the corporation which he raised by audacity and then ruined by ill-advised adventure. Though he still reportedly occupies a mansion overlooking Perth's Swan river, drives either a black Bentley Turbo or a Mercedes 380 SEL and has a luxury launch moored down the river at Fremantle, he has been forced into a humiliating fire-sale of assets. Now battling to preserve his shadowy family company, Dallhold, he also faces criminal charges over the rescue of failed merchant bank Rothwells, run until its collapse by his Perth mate, "last resort" Laurie Connell.

Robert Holmes a Court died of a heart attack last year, aged 53. Like New Zealander Sir Ron Brierley of Industrial Equity, he had gone a long way to restoring his reputation and his fortunes, so savaged in the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1987. Nevertheless, opinion on his contribution to Australian business remains divided. Prime Minister Bob Hawke praised his "vision", but others were still prepared to write him off as an astute paper shuffler. His wife, Janet, is trying to realise what she calls "his vision", though her style is more conservative.

John Elliott stepped down as chief executive of Elders shortly after announcing record losses of A$1.3 billion (a record which lasted for only as long as it took Bond Corporation to produce its latest figures). He is also a notable drop-out from this year's BRW Rich List. Once worth an estimated A$100 million-plus, last month he failed to make the A$25 million cut-off point. Temporarily, at least, he is concentrating on his property and farming interests, watching footy (there has been talk of his club, Carlton, renaming the John Elliott stand) and weening himself on to a brand of new, low-tar cigarettes.

Of Skase, still less is known. "Too good to be true" run the words of the TV jingle for his prestige development, Mirage Leisure Resort. It proved accurate. After resigning last January from Qintex, whose collapse he blamed on unsympathetic bankers and striking pilots, the media and communists, he moved to Majorca, where there have been sightings of the man - satirically dubbed by the locals "El hombre del futuro" - at the exclusive holiday hideaway of Puerto de Andraitx.

For months a mysterious back ailment prevented him from returning to his home state of Queensland to face court charges relating to the assault of a newspaper photographer. When he did, at the end of May, protected by bodyguards, he was hit by several new actions, alleging, among other things, improper diversion of funds from Qintex. It was reported that he now had no local property assets and that a search of 12 Australian banks and financial institutions revealed holdings of only A$167. Total liabilities could amount to more than A$40 million.

Meanwhile, like Bond, he has been compelled to dispose of many of the assets so rapidly acquired during his heady years. Among those sold was a pair of 19th century carved wooden Corinthian columns, apparently bought by Skase to adorn his projected Hollywood office. It is also alleged that other assets, including two Rolls-Royces, had been transferred overseas as Qintex went into its death throes.

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