Let’s have a look at the turning points of some famous Australian entrepreneurs.
1. Lindsay Fox
Turning a bad situation into a good one is often the source of a great fortune. Trucking magnate Lindsay Fox’s turning point came when he was just 15 and his teachers at Melbourne High School had told him his academic record meant it was time to move on.
Fox has often said that they were right – he wasn’t much of a student. But he clearly had some business nous, inherited from his father – a truck driver who sold beer on the weekends to supplement his income.
He bought his first truck on credit and started out on the path of creating Linfox, Australia’s biggest private transport business.
2. Andrew Abercrombie
Rich list member Andrew Abercrombie had what sounds like a pretty good life back in the mid 1980s. He was a lawyer in the entertainment business, with a client list that included rock group INXS.
But then he turned 30. “I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer when I grew up,” he told BRW back in 2007. He travelled to Switzerland to do his MBA, worked on Wall Street and eventually came home to Australia, where he bought a few businesses that were in desperate need of a turnaround.
One of them was vendor finance firm FlexiGroup, which is today listed on the ASX with a market capitalisation of $630 million.
3. Len Ainsworth
Octogenarian Len Ainsworth is best known as the pioneer of Australia’s pokies industry. But he started off running his father’s dentistry business when he was presented with the idea of making poker machines.
“There was huge demand for the machines and I thought if we made them for a year we could get enough money to go back and make dental chairs and units,” he said a few years ago.
He made two poker machines a week, then four and then eight. He never returned to making dentist chairs and instead turned Aristocrat into one of the world’s biggest poker machine makers.
4. Terry Peabody
There are hundreds of stories of immigrants striking it rich in a new country and Australia’s rich list is no different. One I’ve always liked is that of Terry Peabody, who came to Australia in 1965 as a 25-year-old engineer on the Snowy Mountains hydro electric project.
Peabody’s main job was pumping high-fluidity cement to stabilise the ground before construction began on the dams and tunnels. But he saw a different opportunity. A key ingredient in the cement was fly-ash, which helped to strengthen the cement and was being imported – at high cost – from Japan.
Peabody recognised fly-ash was a waste product from coal-fired power plants and approached the coal-fired power plants in New South Wales with a deal to buy the fly-ash they had been throwing away. It took time to convince the cement sector to use fly-ash, but it allowed Peabody to build his first empire.
5. Paul Stoddard
The strong Australian dollar has forced aviation entrepreneur Paul Stoddard out of the rich list for the time being, but the serial entrepreneur still has a great “turning point” story. It was 1989 and a friend had told Stoddard that the Australian government’s VIP fleet was up for sale.
Getting the five planes was one thing, but Stoddard also noticed that the government was throwing in a package of spare parts. That ‘package’ turned out to be 41 shipping containers full of parts – enough for Stoddart to become one of the biggest spare parts dealers in the world for certain types of aircraft.
It was, as he would later say, the deal of a lifetime.