The passing of Alan Bond this week has made many think back to the decade of the ’80s with its big hair and even bigger, brasher entrepreneurs. It was the decade that saw a new generation of leaders in Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson come into their own (their companies still hold sway to this day), and downunder it was Bondy, Skasey, Murdoch & Packer.
Reading Paul Barry’s book, The Rise and Fall of Alan Bond (pub. 1991), made you realise that Bondy had been up to his old tricks way back when he was a sign writer and wannabee businessman. Legend has it that having seen For Sale/Sold signs go and up and down on various developments around Perth, Alan realised he was in the wrong game. The serious money was being made in property development, not in sign boards. Allegedly, the various deals he started making back then were just as risky, as he flew close to the wind many, many times, and made enemies and riches in equal measure. He was the consummate salesman, a bit loud, full of himself and convincing, and every now and again struck gold.
In 1983 I visited Australia for the first time. The bright sun, land of opportunity and, yes, brashness, appealed to this 20 year old back packing uni student. I lobbed up in Brisbane where my brother had been working for a year (he’s still there, 30 years on). The Commonwealth Games had just happened, and of course it was the time of the famous America’s Cup win (which did wonders for WA, Fremantle and Bond Corporation in particular). The USA had won the Cup continuously since 1851. No more. Bondy bankrolled this fourth attempt at resting it from their hands, and won. He made sure he cashed in too, and all went well (Bond Towers, 6X Brewery, Channel 9 and van Gogh’s Irises among some notable deals) until the stock market crash of 1987 exposed the problems within his vast empire. To keep things going he had illegally taken $1.3 billion in cash from one business to prop up another, an action that would land him up in jail for 3-4 years.
4 years in jail is what another sometime Perth businessman ended up with this week. A Perth court found that Bill Ardrey had faked $394,000 of consultants’ fees paid by a company he was a non-executive director of. The money was going to him. He had put up an elaborate web of deceit to cover his tracks, even faking a stroke in an attempt to stay out of court. (As with Mubarak of Egypt, Milosevic of Serbia and Alan Bond, an imminent court appearance can often herald sudden illness). It was sad to hear of his misdeeds. I had met Bill at UWA when he was completing a PhD. He sometimes subbed for lecturers if they were away, and he was an odd looking but amusing presenter, with a mix of humour and what seemed a little like shyness. I remember once he rushed through a 3-hour lecture to have it all done in 75 minutes. He wanted to get off early, and I suppose so did we. I met him a few times years later, in Singapore, where he and I did some occasional lecturing for UWA. He was good company, but had those ‘shifty eyes’, which I put down to shyness, but perhaps hid something he was up to. On the night I won a 40under40 Award in 2003, so did he. Whatever the ins and outs of the case, it’s sad to see someone fall so badly, and make the mistakes he must have made that led him to the court last week.
I feel sorry for the families of those affected by these deeds, the companies and people defrauded. I never met Bond, but I bet he was charming company. Great salespeople (and great fraudsters, and Bondy was Australia’s biggest fraudster) always are. These behaviours are often set in stone early in life.
In a footnote, it seems odd though that Bill gets 4 years in jail for $400k, the same as Alan for $1.3billion. If jail time was linked to dollars, Bondy would have had 13,000 years. Or Bill would have had half a day. Maybe he’ll get out early with good behaviour.