Australia: The eighties boomers - down but not out? (4 of 5)

Australia: The eighties boomers - down but not out? (4 of 5) - Though most of the former high flyers appear to have been more successful than poor Mark Povey in preserving their glamorous lifestyles, some have not. It was reported recently that Kevin Par

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Though most of the former high flyers appear to have been more successful than poor Mark Povey in preserving their glamorous lifestyles, some have not. It was reported recently that Kevin Parry (would-be America's Cup winner) has returned to work as a discount furniture salesman.

Russell Goward, a court heard in January, had been forced to sell his A$5.5 million mansion along with other assets, owed some A$33 million and was then unemployed. Recent reports have him concentrating on physical fitness rather than company finances: the man who regularly jogged round Hyde Park on his London buying sprees now runs marathons and triathlons.

Warwick "Young Wokka" Fairfax - hardly a flamboyant entrepreneur, but a boy/man who was willing nevertheless to take a huge risk to acquire (and subsequently lose) his family's 150-year-old publishing group - has returned to born-again Christian obscurity in the United States.

So what went wrong? Why have so many of Australia's entrepreneurs gone from bust to boom and back again so quickly? As Elliott soberly noted, they should not necessarily be regarded as a homogeneous group grappling with the same set of problems. "They're all very different. It's not for me to comment but the late Holmes a Court ... he was a shrewd tactician but he didn't ever run a major business. Alan Bond was more the wheeler-dealer, Rupert Murdoch has built a major business ..."

What united them was the attempt, often in the face of increased financial adversity, to grow too far, too fast. As leading analyst Ray Block explains, Australian entrepreneurs went out with a "world is my oyster" attitude. They moved in a blur of new deals, new figures, new borrowings, the audacity of today's deal frequently camouflaging the shortcomings of yesterday's.

Inevitably the day of reckoning came as debt-laden empires tried to accommodate and pay for high-priced (indeed overpriced) assets, and became overstretched. Some, like Holmes a Court, misread the bull market and were caught out in the 1987 crash; others, such as Bond or Skase, sought to prosper from it, despite soaring interest rates and falling property prices. Eventually almost all went a "deal too far".

In the case of Bond, for example, it was the ill-timed and ill-advised takeover attempt on Tiny Rowland's Lonrho, which responded, predictably, with what one Bond executive called a "broken bottle attack" which did enormous damage both to Bond Corporation finances and international credibility.

In the case of Skase it was the grandiose plan to gain control of the world famous MGM/United Artists. Later a chastened Skase admitted that he had "been guilty of taking my eye off the ball". In fact he had too many balls in the air.

In the case of Elliott it was the attempt to use investment company Harlin to gain control of Elders.

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