James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Boganaire: Nathan Tinkler’s tale of woe and other great Christmas Rich List reads

Published 19 December 2013 13:11

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Boganaire: Nathan Tinkler’s tale of woe and other great Christmas Rich List reads

Nathan Tinkler outside the NSW Supreme Court in March. Sasha Woolley

When Nathan Tinkler was forced to sell his only remaining asset in June, I immediately dashed of a piece listing five reasons Nathan Tinkler might not be finished yet.

My reasons were: he’s young; he’s built wealth quickly before; he still has assets; he has an eye for spotting unloved assets; and mining loves a comeback.

All of that is still true. But after reading Paddy Manning’s excellent book Boganaire: The Rise and Fall of Nathan Tinkler, I am not so sure of myself.

The richly detailed books lays Tinkler’s life bare, from his early days working in Newcastle’s coal mines through to his triumphant deals with Macarthur Coal and Whitehaven, and his spectacular fall from grace.

It is, for the main, a tale of reckless borrowing. While BRW may have christened him a billionaire, and while he may have pulled off deals delivering big returns, Tinkler was almost constantly in debt to creditors, large and small.

If it wasn’t debt, then it was excessive spending. In 2008, when Tinkler sold out of Macarthur Coal for $442 million in cash, he was in a perfect spot – cashed up just as the world went into the global financial crisis panic.

But instead of buying unloved, undervalued assets, he spent millions on horses, houses, cars and silly sharemarket bets. As Manning writes:

“... despite his paper wealth and outward success, he was almost always short of cash, if not on the verge of going broke. Tinkler never, in his brief time at the top, had a dependable source of income. He was always buying the next thing before he had the money. He was in perpetual cash-flow crisis, and it was entirely self-inflicted. It was also entirely selfish: money could always be found for the next horse, car or house, but never for the small creditor.”

Manning details Tinkler’s excesses and successes with a sceptical eye, and demonstrates how the world of the wealthy is never quite as it seems. He also provides a sort of fable for Australia’s mining boom; many would argue that like Tinkler, Australia has wasted its chance to build lasting wealth from resources.

Could Tinkler come make a comeback? He would have to make some major changes in his business approach and learn from his spending and borrowing mistakes and Manning’s book makes me question whether he could actually change.

Two other Rich 200 books stand out this year that would make great Christmas reading.

Margaret Simons’ Kerry Stokes: Self Made Man is an unauthorised biography of one of our most powerful and elusive business people. Stokes has a wonderful back-story: the poorly-educated, adopted son of itinerant workers, who slept rough on occasions and worked a series of jobs before building a media empire. We voted Stokes as our top Rich Lister of the past 30 years in our anniversary edition of the Rich 200 in May, so anything more we can learn about him is welcome.

Another Rich 200 member who has had a fascinating year is Andrew Forrest. Rising iron ore prices have seen his wealth rise, and he also signed up to give away half his fortune under Warren Buffet and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge. Forrest’s life is covered in the unauthorised biography Twiggy: The High-Stakes Life of Andrew Forrest by Andrew Burrell. Twiggy has had his ups and downs over an extraordinary career and this book goes into detail about all the court battles, successes and failures.

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