- BRW Lists
Last year: $6.9 billion
Media, entertainment (gaming), investment. Sydney
See feature, page 36
Last year: $4.8 billion
Property (shopping centres), investment. Sydney
75. Married, three children
Although Frank Lowy's wealth has increased substantially, his highlight of the past 12 months was Australia qualifying for the world cup in Germany in June. The national soccer team has performed badly for decades, and someone with the necessary determination and management ability, not to mention deep pockets, was needed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag it on to the world stage. Lowy became president of Football Federation Australia, and mission impossible was achieved when Australia beat Uruguay in late 2005 to qualify for the world cup finals. No one who knows Lowy's record of success was surprised. Born in Czechoslovakia, he had his first experience of retailing in his mother's grocery store. The family moved to Hungary at the start of World War II, and at 17 he went to Palestine to fight for Israel's independence. In 1952 he arrived in Sydney with a small suitcase, little English and a debt for his plane fare. He drove a delivery truck to make enough money to open a delicatessen in partnership with another eastern European migrant, John Saunders, in outer-suburban Blacktown. The business flourished, and their decision to build a group of stores was the modest precursor of today's regional shopping centre. Westfield Group is now a world leader in shopping centres. After Saunders retired, Westfield's status as a family business increased, and Lowy's three sons, David, 51, Peter, 47, and Steven, 42, took key executive roles. When Lowy reduced his Westfield shareholding in 1998, David took over management of Lowy Family Group, the family's private investment company, but Frank remains a Westfield director. Despite this diversification, the family is understood to believe that shopping centres are a second-to-none investment, with low risk and outstanding returns. Controversy surrounds Westfield's plans to redevelop the landmark Centrepoint property in the heart of Sydney: other businesses are complaining vigorously about dislocation and increased traffic in an already busy precinct. It remains to be seen whether Lowy, as usual, eventually gets what he wants. In addition to his soccer achievement, Lowy is proud of the Lowy Institute, an international panel of experts he has funded, with elite participants. He is a substantial donor to a variety of causes, in Australia and the United States, and takes an active interest in Jewish causes. Asked to explain his success, close observers of Lowy say it is not just intelligence but the commitment he makes to anything he does.
Last year: $4.7 billion
Manufacturing (paper, packaging), investment Melbourne
71. Married, three children
The cardboard-box king, Dick Pratt, is in the early stages of the biggest fight of his long and colourful corporate life. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission's pursuit of court action against his Visy group for alleged price-fixing in the $1.8-billion cardboard-box market has ensured Pratt will be embroiled in legal action for years to come. But if the issue is weighing heavily on Pratt's mind, it is not reflected in his frenetic business activity; insiders say Pratt has never worked harder.
As BRW revealed in April, Visy is one of several companies running a ruler over Brambles' waste management business, Cleanaway, but a possible asking price of more than $1 billion might be enough reason for Pratt to sit out this takeover. In the past year Visy increased its domestic market share to 53%. In the United States, where Visy's operation are run by Pratt's son, Anthony, the $100-million acquisition of the Love Box Company and Lewisburg Container in December has made Pratt Industries (USA) the nation's seventh biggest box company. In the family succession plan, Anthony gets the US assets; daughter Heloise and her husband, Alex Waislitz, get the investment company, Thorney; and daughter Fiona and her husband, Raphael Geminder, already have Visy Industrial Packaging. All three children will share the core Australian packaging and recycling businesses. Pratt's daughter Paula, by his former mistress, Shari-Lea Hitchcock, will get a generous cash allowance to accompany the $5-million Watsons Bay apartment she will inherit at 18. On the philanthropy front, Pratt, who received his fourth honorary doctorate from Israel's Ben Gurion University in May 2005, provided the seed funding for the Australian Conservation Foundation to form a business leaders' roundtable on climate change. Heloise Waislitz, who chairs the Pratt Foundation, donated $1.4 million to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. And Pratt's wife Jeanne's active interest in the arts continued, and her Production Company was responsible for Melbourne seasons of Kiss Me, Kate, Sunset Boulevard and Oklahoma! In business, Pratt is used to making decisions and getting them implemented immediately, but in the past few years he has discovered it works differently when dealing with government. Late last year he walked away from the Federal Government's water strategy, frustrated that the $5-million Murrumbidgee River study he funded was languishing nearly a year after it was handed to the then Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson. Since then Pratt has held discussions with Malcolm Turnbull, the parliamentary secretary responsible for water policy.
Energy. Wuxi, China
The opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on December 15, 2005, marked the listing of Suntech Power Holdings. It also marked the global recognition of a Chinese solar power company backed by Australian technology and the end of a long journey for a dual Chinese-Australian citizen, Shi Zhengrong. The journey began 17 years ago when Shi, a student in laser technology, arrived in Sydney looking for a place to complete his doctorate. He joined a dynamic research team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), now known as the Centre of Excellence for Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics and Photonics. The decision to change to the solar technology field suited Shi, who took up the position of deputy research director of the centre's commercial arm after completing his doctorate. Although he became an Australian citizen, Shi could not resist returning to China when the Government in Wuxi, a city between Beijing and Shanghai, offered him $6 million to set up manufacturing operations in the region. Shi employed a group of UNSW researchers to set up a solar-panel factory for Suntech Power in 2002. The plant uses conventional technology, but its low labour costs allow the company to operate competitively on the global market. Shi signed up UNSW's Stuart Wenham as his chief technology officer last year and undertook an international roadshow in the lead-up to listing the company. The effort has paid off, as the share price rose sharply from the issue price of $US15 to a high of $US45 before stabilising about $US30. According to his UNSW colleagues, Shi is happy to maintain his shareholding rather than spend his new-found wealth on rewards, because he believes the stock will rise even higher. In the next year the company is expecting to form a partnership with UNSW to provide new technology and raise the rate of efficiency in its cells converting sunlight to power from the standard 16% to 18%.
Last year: $2 billion
73. Married, two children
Any downturn in the property sector has had little effect on Harry Triguboff, the biggest builder of apartments in Australia. Instead of selling his apartments into a depressed market, Triguboff has held on to 3000 units that his private company, Meriton Apartments, built in Sydney over the past few years. It has proved to be a wise move. The units he owns are rented out, mostly as serviced apartments to business people or tourists, and vacancy rates are extremely low. Triguboff estimates that rents for newish Sydney apartments have increased by more than 10% since January, and could rise by 30% by the end of the year. Many of the apartments in his portfolio are in his newer buildings, including Meriton's signature World Square project in Sydney's central business district. A big reason for the rise in rents is the lack of new supply coming on to the Sydney market. Triguboff expects buyers to return to the market later this year if rents keep rising. He says he is starting to get more approvals for new projects and estimates Meriton already has the land for another 4000 apartments. But he is critical of those organisations that he says caused the sluggish Sydney property market: the banks, local councils and the Reserve Bank of Australia. "Sydney is the city that controls Australia. But they did everything they could to knock Sydney. You wouldn't do that to your worst enemy. You shouldn't try to destroy the place." Triguboff says that last year he was considering building in or close to the Gold Coast. Although he has been searching for opportunities to buy land in the area, Triguboff says the Gold Coast - where he has three apartment developments under construction - is struggling. "When Sydney prices go up, people go to Surfers Paradise and other places. But when Sydney prices do not go up then the Queensland market goes down. So their market is only as good as Sydney." Triguboff has survived many market downturns over the years. Most famously he survived a credit squeeze in 1973, when the banks tried to force him to sell his units at discounted prices. He refused and has had an uneasy relationship with the banks since. In the past few years he has provided vendor finance through Meriton, and has more than 1000 loans on his books. He has been a long-time supporter of rugby league team Wests Tigers, having financially backed it and the old Balmain Tigers club (which merged with Western Suburbs in 2000) for many years. Wests Tigers won the 2005 National Rugby League premiership.
David Hains and family
Last year: $1.9 billion
75. Married, five children
David Hains may own a hedge fund worth more than $2 billion, but his true passion is horse racing. In the 1980s, Hains was one of Australia's most successful owners and breeders and his Kingston Park Stud was highly regarded in the thoroughbred industry. One of the first horses he bred, Kingston Town, won the Cox Plate (Australia's premier weight-for-age race) three times in a stellar career, and Hains also bred and raced the Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule and Portland Player, which won the Victoria Derby. But in the 1990s, the winners dried up. Hains says he made the mistake of putting too much faith in breeding from Northern Hemisphere shuttle sires (which travel between Australia and North America and Europe according to the breeding seasons) who could not produce horses tough enough for Australian conditions. Hains says: "We had many years of excellent results, then hit a major flat spot. It was frustrating. We decided to go back and be analytical about it, not emotional. We thought about what we were doing so right when we had such great success. We decided to go back to our roots." In 2002, Hains bought a cattle property in central Victoria and set about searching the globe for the right stallions to rebuild his empire. He found two in Argentina and one in Australia. The early results are encouraging: one of the first progeny from the new stallions, Amerryking, is showing promise and Hains' Portland Spirit finished fifth in last year's Victoria Derby. Hains' daughter Kathy helps run Kingston Park Stud and his other children are also heavily involved in the business. Son Stephen Hains is the chief executive of David Hains' main investment vehicle, Portland House Group. This company houses the family's main source of wealth, a hedge fund that specialises in long-term international investments. It is believed to have performed extremely well in the past 12 months as equity markets surged around the world. Another son, Paul, runs an investment fund that specialises in health-care companies. Portland Group has also branched out into property development in recent years with the Waterways residential investment in Melbourne's south-east. The Hains family has invested $10 million in the design and construction of a wetlands area at Waterways and more than 100 species of aquatic birds have been sighted there. Portland House Group released about 40 blocks of land for sale at the site in 2005.
Len Ainsworth and Sons
Last year: $1.6 billion
Manufacturing (gaming machines). Sydney
82. Married twice, seven children
It is lucky for Len Ainsworth and his family that they continue to own about 30% of Aristocrat Leisure or this year might have been a tragedy rather than another triumph. As the Ainsworths' holdings in Aristocrat have increased in value, Len Ainsworth's share in the company he controls, Ainsworth Game Technology, has fallen. Ainsworth started the gaming machine maker Aristocrat back in the 1950s, but he no longer has an active role in the company, nor do his seven sons, who are also shareholders. Aristocrat has made a big comeback from a bad time four years ago, when it bungled its strategy to sell poker machines overseas and lost several contracts. The company's market capitalisation plummeted to a record low in 2002, dragging down the Ainsworth fortune with it. After some mandatory finger pointing between the board and management, Paul Oneile took over as chief executive in November 2003 and the company has been on the up and up ever since. The Ainsworth holding in Aristocrat is worth $1.5 billion and has been spewing forth cash into the family's coffers this year - big dividends paid in the past 12 months gave them a $30-million windfall in one fell swoop. Len Ainsworth is a self-avowed miser who, with a touch of pride in his voice, describes his whole family as "tightwads". But his sons are not so slow to spend. For example, his third son, Simon, spent $3.6 million on a five-bedroom home at Pearl Beach, a tranquil beach playground in Sydney's north. But Ainsworth says these are investments. "They might buy a boat or something, but they keep it for 10 years, then sell at a profit." While Aristocrat was having all sorts of success - such as signing a deal with a Russian company, SIA MegaImpex, to distribute its machines all over Russia - Ainsworth Game Technology posted a loss of $11 million for the 2004-05 year after a $3.5-million cost blow-out. Things are better now - half-year net profit was $3.6 million, but the share price has sunk from a high of 67¢ in August last year to about 45¢ in May. Len Ainsworth doesn't care. No matter how rich he gets, his day-to-day life stays the same: long hours at the office, even though he is 83. What gets under Len's skin is losing a defamation case against a former licensing officer, Les Burden, and having to pay Burden's court costs. His rancour against the man who wrote a letter to the former New South Wales Police Minister, Terry Griffiths, suggesting Ainsworth was not a "fit and proper person" has brewed for 15 years. Ainsworth is appealing. Why? "We never give up on anything," he says.
Last year: $1.5 billion
Property (shopping centres), services (aged care) Melbourne
71. Married, four children
John Gandel shocked the market in October 2005 when he exercised an option to sell Gandel Group's stake in Gandel Retail Management (GRM) to Commonwealth Bank (CBA) for an estimated $300 million. Before the move, Gandel and CBA had joint ownership of GRM, through the 2002 deal that merged Gandel's listed property trust with Commonwealth Property Office Fund and Colonial Property Office Fund to create the CFS Gandel Retail Trust. GRM manages the assets of CFS Gandel trust and Gandel owns a 19% stake, although there are rumours that he will soon sell the holding. But Gandel has indicated that he has no intention of leaving the property sector and still holds $1 billion of shopping centres, through his share in the giant Chadstone and Northland malls in Melbourne. Gandel owns 50% of Chadstone, the largest shopping centre in Australia, and the remainder is owned by CFS Gandel (which is likely to change its name later this year). Gandel has a pre-emptive right to acquire the other half of Chadstone if the trust was to be taken over. He bought the mall from Myer Emporium for a reported $37 million in 1983. It is now worth more than $1.6 billion, has annual sales of more than $900 million and is undergoing yet another expansion. The money he has made from his flagship mall has allowed Gandel several indulgences. He owns a Bombardier Global Express jet, said to have cost $US45 million, a $40-million house in the exclusive Melbourne suburb of Toorak and a $35-million luxury boat. He also distributes more than $1 million a year to charity through the Gandel Charitable Trust. Gandel has retail in his blood. His family's clothing business was started in 1939, just after they arrived in Australia from Poland. The family opened a corsetry store in Collins Street, Melbourne, and later expanded the business to a series of Sussan stores.
Gandel sold the retail business in 1985 to brother-in-law Marc Besen (see separate listing), and concentrated on shopping malls. In recent years, Gandel has made a series of small investments in foreign companies and intends to form an investment group focusing on water industries in Israel. In March Gandel purchased an 89.7% stake in Elgo Irrigation for $13 million and last year he bought 50% of Plastro Irrigation for about $19 million. He also owns retirement villages in Melbourne and Sydney.
Last year: $900 million
Resources (iron ore). Perth
52. Widowed, four children
See feature, page 38
Last year: $1.42 billion
Media, retail (industrial equipment). Perth
65. Married four times, four children
Kerry Stokes' son Ryan joined the board of the Seven Network in December last year, and it inevitably triggered speculation that the billionaire media mogul, now 65, was starting to plan for retirement. The speculation was very short-lived. Stokes' spokespeople made it clear that he has no intention of retiring yet, and what is more, he is known to hate the idea of succession planning, saying several years ago that grooming was for horses. None the less, his 30-year-old son is now playing a role within Stokes' media empire every bit as active as James Packer did at Publishing & Broadcasting Limited before his father's death. He already runs the magazine company Pacific Magazines and heads Stokes' burgeoning Seven Network Asia venture. Stokes senior and junior are enjoying the second year of what has been, by any measure, a remarkable turnaround at the TV network, which only 18 months ago was being dismissed by some media analysts as a basket-case. In 2005, a swag of new programs led by shows such as Desperate Housewives and Lost helped Seven out of the ratings doldrums so effectively that it seriously threatened Nine Network's number-one position throughout the year. Seven is leading the ratings in 2006 and the network's advertising revenue jumped by 12% in February. But Stokes' war with his media rivals extends way past the ratings reports. Stokes is suing Foxtel shareholders News Limited, PBL and Telstra, as well as 20 other parties, for $1.1 billion in damages over what Stokes says was a conspiracy to lock his C7 pay-TV sports channels out of Foxtel, thereby forcing C7 to close in 2002. So far, the court action has cost Seven more than $30 million, with no sign of a resolution. But the stoush has not diverted Stokes away from some very serious deal-making. In the past 12 months, Seven has formed a joint venture with Yahoo to help it gain a stronger presence on the internet, the fastest-growing sector of Australia's $12-billion media industry. It also successfully bid, in partnership with Ten Network, $780 million for broadcast rights to the Australian Football League from 2007. Stokes may be best known for his TV and magazine interests, but he is also the biggest dealer in Australia of Caterpillar machinery. In recent years, he has built the business in China to a point where it is estimated he has more than a quarter of the Caterpillar market, yielding sales of more than $175 million last year.
Last year: $1.16 billion
60. Married, three children
Lang Walker's sense of timing is uncanny. He has put his private company, Walker Corporation, on the market in what will be one of the biggest sales in the Australian property sector. It will easily fetch $1.5 billion and comes at a time when big institutions and property trusts are frantically scouring the market for investment-grade property. Walker Corporation will certainly sate that hunger, despite the fact that prospective buyers know Walker is selling near the top of the market. Among the assets up for grabs are the Broadway shopping centre near Sydney's central business district, the Rhodes shopping centre, office tower and residential project near Homebush Bay, the Hope Island resort on the Gold Coast, and about $12-billion worth of future development projects, including 23,000 housing lots. A bidding war is certain to eventuate for the group, which is likely to be of interest for listed property trusts such as Stockland, GPT Group and Mirvac Group, as well as Macquarie Bank and Babcock & Brown. Many recent sales of large property assets have attracted higher than expected prices, meaning Walker will probably realise a huge price for his group. It will not be the first time that Walker has sold out. The original Walker Corporation was listed in 1994, when Walker floated half of the company for $140 million. The property sector struggled in the next few years and its shares fell. In early 2000, when the company was sold to Australand, Walker's stake was worth $110 million. He then started afresh by forming McRoss Developments, which later took Walker's name again after Walker Corporation delisted. He now says that at the age of 60 it is time to sell and concentrate on his passion for sailing. He owns more than 10 yachts and sails competitively, and spends up to half each year sailing, skiing and scuba diving. But there is also talk that he will continue in the property game, perhaps expanding his interests overseas. He already has some developments under way in the United States and a housing project in Malaysia. He usually holds $40-50 million cash in reserve in case a good deal comes along and he has to make a quick decision. Walker's first foray into business was joining his father's small earth-moving and quarry business in the late 1960s at Sandy Point, in the south-west of Sydney. Before that he was an encyclopedia salesman, truck driver and earth-moving equipment salesman. He gradually changed the focus of the family business to property development and later sold the quarrying business.
Last year: $1.1 billion
Retail (homewares, computers), property Sydney
66. Married twice, four children
The larrikin business leader has had a great year. Norman's biggest asset, a stake in homewares and electronic goods retailer Harvey Norman, has increased in value by almost 50%. The company booked an 18.5% increase in net profit to $132 million in the six months to December 31, 2005, and sales rose 10.2% to $2.3 billion. After a spell in the doghouse when profit growth stalled, Harvey Norman has won the praise and support of investors once again as it rides the technology boom. Consumers are queuing up to buy plasma TVs and DVD players as prices fall and technology improves. Harvey and business partner Ian Norman opened their first Harvey Norman store in Auburn, Sydney, in 1982 after they sold their successful Norman Ross chain. The group opened 11 new stores in Australia in the six months to December 2005 and a new shop in Ireland, where it aims to have nine stores by the end of June. The company has expanded into Singapore, Malaysia, Croatia and Slovenia and has 213 stores worldwide. Harvey says Harvey Norman, which usually owns the properties in which the stores are located, owns $1.2 billion of property and is heading towards $2 billion. But there was at least one disappointment for Harvey in 2005-06: he missed out on buying the Myer department store. The billionaire made a bid for the department store chain but was beaten by private-equity firm Newbridge Capital in a consortium with members of the Myer family, descendants of the founder Sidney Myer. Harvey is typically philosophical about the loss: "Life goes on," he says. Outside of business, horse racing is his passion. He owns 800 race horses and three horse studs. After the Ingham family he is the biggest breeder in the country. "I love winning races and breeding champions." Lord of the Land and Majestically are two of his best performing horses. As Harvey approaches 70 years old he says he will never retire. "People say, 'I can't wait to I retire' and then you talk to them and two things happen. One, you find out they have a very boring life mostly. And two, after you talk to them for about 10 minutes you can't wait to get away." Harvey is not working to create a family dynasty either; he doesn't believe in them. His son Michael, his anointed heir, quit his post as managing director in 1998 to spend more time surfing. Harvey says: "I don't believe you build a business to give to your kids. You build it for yourself. Money and dynasties are a load of crap."
Last year: $1.26 billion
Wine, property. Sydney
77. Married, three children
As he approaches 80, Bob Oatley retains a zeal for business matched only by his passion for sailing. Oatley has his fingers in many pies: restoring the historic Woolwich Dock in Sydney, continuing a sweeping redevelopment of Hamilton Island, and establishing a family wine label from acreage in Mudgee. It is not surprising that a brief attempt at retirement eight years ago failed. According to one anecdote, Oatley announced he was retiring on a Wednesday evening and was sent back to work the next Monday by his wife Valerie. Oatley built his fortune from coffee and wine, and his confidence in his own decisions has dictated the success and failure of several ventures. A business partner described Oatley's ideal as "a board meeting of one" and this style clashed with the bureaucratic demands of life as a public director following the 2001 merger of Oatley's privately owned Rosemount Estate and Southcorp. The merger was a failure, blamed in part on the discounting strategy pursued by Oatley's son-in-law, Keith Lambert, and the wine glut. Oatley sold his 18.8% stake in Southcorp to Foster's Group in January 2005 and, in characteristic fashion, he did not tell the board. The move triggered Foster's $3.7-billion takeover of Southcorp and marked the end of Oatley's flirtation with life as a public director. Oatley made his first fortune from coffee as the sole employee of a coffee-trading business in 1958. He got better prices for coffee growers than the large companies and soon bought out the company. Oatley later opened Papua New Guinea's coffee markets to trade with the United States and Europe, receiving the British Empire Medal in 1969 in recognition of his services. Oatley's latest ventures include the restoration of the 1850s Woolwich Dock in Sydney and plans for the release of a family wine label. Another big project is the overhaul of Hamilton Island, a Whitsunday Islands tourist destination that the family bought for $200 million in late 2003. Plans include expanded infrastructure, a range of new accommodation and a championship golf course on nearby Dent Island. Oatley is one of Australia's most private billionaires, but is often thrust into the limelight for his achievements in sailing. He won line and handicap honours in the 2005 Sydney to Hobart yacht race with his 98-foot yacht Wild Oats XI.
Last year: $1.3 billion
Media, investment. London, Wollongong, Bermuda
77. Married twice, two children
It was the year of the heir in Australia's largest media companies: James Packer was thrust into the limelight of Publishing & Broadcasting Limited, Lachlan Murdoch bowed out of News Corporation, and in Wollongong last August, with relatively little fanfare, 35-year-old Andrew Gordon took on the chairman's job of WIN Corporation, the media business his father, Bruce Gordon, started with the purchase of Television Wollongong Transmissions (TWT) in 1979. Much has changed since then, with WIN progressively extending its reach geographically to cover regional Australia. It also owns 44% of the Nine Network affiliate station in Perth. WIN now claims an audience of five million, or 26% of the national viewing population, and although its focus on regional areas means it is often ignored in city-centric debates about the future of Australian media, the company is likely to figure in any big changes to the media landscape if cross-media ownership laws are relaxed. This is not just through the position of WIN Corporation's television business, which BRW values at $650 million and is an attractive target, or acquirer, if laws are relaxed (restrictions now prevent the owner of one form of media owning more than 15% of another form of media in the same market). Possible suitors include Rural Press, Macquarie Media Group and West Australian Newspapers. Apart from corporate activity involving WIN, Bruce Gordon holds substantial stakes in other media companies. BRW estimates Gordon family companies have total shareholdings and dividends worth $320 million, including 7.8% of metropolitan television company Ten Network and 1.1% of Publishing & Broadcasting Limited. The younger Gordon has taken the role of head of the business, with accolades from his father. "Andrew is very good in new media and he understands all those new trends better and quicker than I do," Bruce said at the time of his son's appointment. WIN has experienced the challenges of new media businesses this year, recording a decline in the valuations of its telephone companies - telecommunications businesses Kooee and SPT Telecommunications, owned in joint ventures with listed company SP Telemedia - as the outlook for the sector worsened. But growth in WIN Corporation's core business of television advertising means it is forecast to achieve $290 million in revenue in 2005-06, up $20 million from last year. Despite the challenges ahead, Bruce, who now lives in Bermuda, is unlikely to be too fazed. Andrew is showing he may well be cut from the same relaxed cloth; when not pulling the levers of the business, his escape is a spot of trout fishing.
Last year: $1.1 billion
Property, retail (vehicles). Perth
83. Married twice, three children
Like the Mississippi in the song Ol' Man River, Stan Perron just keeps "rolling along" by the banks of the Swan River in Perth. From his plush apartment atop the former Swan Brewery, Perron looks out on a city where more than 20% of the passing cars have his mark stamped on them. For a man who once tried his hand at almost every conceivable business, from ice rinks and earthmoving to bricks and airlines, Perron today is content to pursue three activities: property, vehicles and stockmarket investments. "It's been a pretty good year for most of our activities," he says. "Vehicle sales in March were the strongest ever, and property values just keep on rising." As for the stockmarket, Perron says: "That's probably been our top performer over the past year. We just keep dripping money into the portfolio." Although blue-chip stocks make up most of his holdings, Perron is not afraid to dabble among speculative stocks, taking a large position in a small iron
ore explorer, Iron Ore Holdings. Perron cut his teeth the hard way in the mean backblocks of Boulder, the twin city to Australia's gold capital, Kalgoorlie. Today, Perron Group is ranked as one of Australia's biggest landlords. It has commercial properties across the country and an extensive portfolio of shopping centres. Annual rental income is $90 million. Perron says he would like to add to the property portfolio, but good assets are hard to find. "We'd buy if we could find anything." The second trading arm of the group is Prestige Toyota, a business that holds the last direct franchise from Toyota Motors. "We've got 22% of the market, thanks to Toyota. Demand for all vehicles has been remarkably strong." Perron is also confronting succession planning, a subject some business owners shy away from. "We're set up and running as a public company, with outside directors, including Trevor Eastwood [who is also chairman of Wesfarmers], and one family member, my daughter. Our management team is excellent. We've got people who've been with us for 40 years. I say to them, 'You look after your job and that'll look after me'." Perron dismisses instantly a suggestion that a stock exchange listing is possible. "Never," he says.
"I think we've got the perfect solution, and we're staying private. Come back and ask again in another 50 years," he says with a laugh.
Last year: $520 million
Services (waste management), investment
66. Married, three children
The incredible increase in Terry Peabody's wealth can be almost entirely attributed to the rise in the share price of Transpacific Industries, the company he established in 1987 and floated in May 2005. Transpacific hit the boards at $2.40 and is now hovering above $9. Peabody, who is executive chairman of the company, retains a 51% stake worth more than $930 million. The rapid rise of Transpacific's share price has a lot to do with the fact that investors have recognised Peabody as one of Australia's best deal makers. Since Transpacific's float, Peabody has orchestrated more than 15 deals with a value of almost $1 billion, including February's $769-million merger with Waste Management New Zealand. Now he is after the waste sector's biggest prize: Cleanaway, the waste services business being sold by Brambles for about $1 billion. Transpacific is Peabody's third listed venture. In 1985, his family owned concrete recycling business Pozzolanic Industries was successfully floated, and nine years later he listed the truck maker Western Star (whose vehicles Transpacific still distributes) on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The latter float was a big winner: in 2000, DaimlerChrysler bought Western Star for $800 million, about four times its value in 1994. Despite his varied business interests - Peabody owns a winery in New Zealand and has owned a restaurant in Brisbane - waste has always been at the centre of Peabody's career. He arrived in Australia from his native United States to work in engineering on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. But soon after he arrived, he found that the principal waste product from coal-fired power stations, fly-ash, could be added to concrete to strengthen it. Peabody quickly set up a deal with the New South Wales Government to collect discarded fly-ash from its power stations. Transpacific has four business divisions: liquid waste, solid waste, industrial services (such as industrial cleaning) and commercial vehicles (trucks and buses). In addition to his acquisition program, Peabody is keen to expand Transpacific's revenue base by pushing into areas such as oil recycling, the manufacture of bio-diesel and the management of water treatment plants. Peabody's ultimate strategy is to create a business where Transpacific gets paid twice: first for collecting industrial waste and again for selling the products created by waste recycling.
Last year: $845 million
Manufacturing (building materials), construction Perth
70. Married twice, five children
Len Buckeridge is juggling with the concept of retirement, and he does not like it. The daily grind of running a business empire that employs more than 9000 people (2600 directly and 6500 indirect subcontractors) has lost its thrill, but floating on the stock exchange or an outright sale is equally distasteful. "I'm in no hurry to sell. I just don't want to come to work every day." The conflict is one of the most difficult Buckeridge has faced in a 50-year career in which he has tackled the toughest challenges governments or the union movement could toss at him. A "human bulldozer" approach to everything he does has seen Buckeridge beat hardcore unionists at their own game, including one infamous incident when he drove his Mercedes through a tent at a union picket. Government has also been fair game, with Buckeridge routinely savaging public servants who stand in his way. Buckeridge's business empire makes almost everything required for a building project. Cement, plasterboard, doors and window frames all come from plants operated by his BGC Group. Two missing ingredients are ceramic tiles (Buckeridge says "no one makes ceramics like the Italians") and clay bricks. That product is missing because the West Australian Government has refused permission for BGC to build a brickworks near Perth airport. "It's a disgrace. We're in the middle of a boom, and home builders can't get bricks to save themselves, and our plant is stuck in boxes." An architect by training, Buckeridge first found fame by designing low-cost housing. Blocks of Buckeridge flats - with their bare-bones two bedroom, one bathroom offering - are dotted throughout Perth. He made the move into manufacturing 40 years ago, when Perth was suffering from a shortage of window frames during an economic boom. "Windows were the first thing we made ourselves." After that it was a simple step into other products. BGC's expansion has been helped by Perth's isolation, which makes it an expensive destination for shipping heavy building materials. The current building boom has lifted Buckeridge to an unprecedented level of business success. Demand for housing in Western Australia is at record levels and the state's economy is growing at 7% a year, almost double the national average. Now would be a brilliant time for Buckeridge to sail into the sunset. His health is failing, but he defiantly smokes 50 cigarettes a day, most of them while sitting next to a "quit smoking" sign his staff have put up in his cramped office. The problem for Buckeridge is working out how to let go of his own creation.
John B. Fairfax
Last year: $1 billion
Media, investment, rural
John B. Fairfax, Sydney
64. Married, two children
Timothy Fairfax, Brisbane
59. Married, two children
One of Australia's most successful media groups, Rural Press, underlined the attractions of regional newspapers with yet another sound result for the six months to December 31, 2005. In contrast to their city cousins, regional newspapers are holding their own against online advertising. John B. Fairfax and his brother Timothy, who have a controlling shareholding in Rural Press, can be well pleased with the outstanding results of this investment, despite the painful circumstances in which it was made. Their cousin Warwick Fairfax raided John Fairfax Limited in 1987 and took control of the owner of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review and BRW. Although they were richer after reluctantly accepting Warwick's bid, they were excluded from any further role in what had been a family business throughout its long history. It was generally believed that John, who had served in journalistic and management roles at Fairfax, was destined to become chairman. Instead, the brothers bought the controlling shareholding in Rural Press from Warwick, who needed to make asset sales to reduce the debt he had taken on to buy John Fairfax Limited. The results for the cousins are in sharp contrast. Warwick sank out of sight under the weight of debt and lost his empire. John and Tim have capitalised on the growth and consolidation opportunities in regional publishing and joined the billionaires' club last year. Further growth opportunities might lie ahead under changes to media ownership rules. John is chairman of Rural Press and Tim, based in Brisbane, oversees the Queensland operations and rural property interests.
John van Lieshout
Last year: $1 billion
Retail, property. Brisbane
60. Married, two children
After he stormed on to the Rich 200 in 2005 with a fortune of $1 billion, John Van Lieshout has continued to accumulate wealth, thanks to the strong performance of his furniture chain, Super A-Mart. Revenue at the business increased about 20% to $423.9 million and the company's growth continues to be fuelled by the booming population of south-east Queensland, which is rising by about 85,000 each year. The new arrivals cannot miss the Super A-Mart brand, thanks to Van Lieshout's long-established marketing strategy of blanket television, radio and direct mail advertising. The Dutch-born businessman started Super A-Mart in 1970, a decade after he migrated to Australia from Holland with his parents and 12 brothers and sisters. Van Lieshout slowly built the chain over the next 30 years and it now has 22 stores through Queensland and northern New South Wales. Despite numerous approaches from investment bankers about a float, Van Lieshout has politely declined all offers to sell the business. He remains something of an enigma in the tight-knit business community, although Super A-Mart is the third largest private company in Queensland. No new stores have been added to the Super A-Mart chain since 1999, but that looks certain to change in the next few years. In early June 2005, Van Lieshout bought a large retail site in the Brisbane suburb of Springwood from the listed property company GPT for $19 million (on a reported yield of 6.7%). The Swedish furniture giant Ikea is the tenant until 2007 but it is expected that Super A-Mart will establish a store on the prominent site when Ikea moves out. In August 2005, Van Lieshout was also tipped as a potential bidder for the stores belonging to the failed electrical and furniture business Megamart, owned by Coles Myer, but Super A-Mart eventually decided to stay out of the bidding contest. In March, Van Lieshout sold an industrial property in the Brisbane suburb of Wacol for $7.4 million (the property is on a short-term leaseback to Super A-Mart). In December 2005, Van Lieshout was reported to be the buyer of Glencairn, a Brisbane home built in 1893. The price was $3.3 million and Van Lieshout was thought to have bought it for his daughter.
Last year: $950 million
Transport, property. Melbourne
69. Married, five children
Sometimes it is better to sit on the sidelines. Just ask transport tsar Lindsay Fox, who was a bystander during the great transport war that ended when Chris Corrigan and Peter Scanlon (see separate listings) finally accepted Toll Holdings' $5.8-billion offer for Patrick Corporation. In the past year, this astute businessman has entered the ranks of the billionaires - and it has had little to do with transport. Rather, it is his stake in the Bank of Queensland, which is worth about $170 million, and his property plays at the Essendon and Avalon airports, that have added the extra zero to Fox's wealth. Avalon, which is on the outskirts of Geelong, has become the nation's 10th busiest airport and recently secured Qantas's 747 maintenance operations. Son David Fox puts the $10-million Avalon purchase in its right perspective: "We've got a 10,000-foot runway that would cost you between $50 million and $100 million to build today." But Lindsay's interests in property do not stop at Avalon and Essendon. In June, he bought Melbourne's Luna Park, the fading amusement icon in St Kilda, for $8 million. At the time Fox said it was "just for fun". But as it eventuated, the $8 million for Luna Park was the first step in a bid to redevelop the precinct's so-called "golden triangle" that includes The Palace nightclub and Palais Theatre. The Port Phillip Council ended that ambition in August, but Fox was not deterred, re-emerging as a partner in the Mirvac Group consortium that is bidding to redevelop the beachfront site. Fox, who could never be accused of being pretentious, also keeps a close eye on his beloved St Kilda football team, intervening last year to smooth relations between chairman Rod Butterss and controversial coach Grant Thomas.
Last year: $750 million
61. Married twice, four children
Underlining his ability as a property trader as well as a developer, last November Bob Ell sold a half-share in his Hyperdome Tuggeranong shopping centre in Canberra to Centro Properties. In turn, Ell's Leda Holdings acquired a half-interest in Centro's Hervey Bay shopping centre in Queensland and also invested in a Centro fund that has stakes in three United States shopping centres. This strategy of developing desirable property assets, holding for the medium term and then realising some profit to parlay into new developments has kept Ell afloat as a property developer since 1976. Now it has taken him into the billionaires' club. He has survived all the property ups and downs in that time, including interest rate blowouts. Leda was listed for a time, but when the property market went bust in 1991, he bought out the public shareholders. Periodically, the rumour resurfaces that he will again float Leda, although running a public company was reportedly not an enjoyable experience for this very private entrepreneur. Leda's assets include three other shopping centres in Queensland and tracts of development land in that state. He spends a lot of time in Queensland, but his home is on Sydney Harbour, where he lives with his second wife and young child. Ell sails for recreation.