14/02/2006 - 21:00

Forrest out there, talking the talk

14/02/2006 - 21:00


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Andrew Forrest is without doubt one of Western Australia’s most intriguing characters. I had the great pleasure to hear Mr Forrest speak last week at one of WA Business News’s Success and Leadership events, and it was a great opportunity to gain insight

Forrest out there, talking the talk

Andrew Forrest is without doubt one of Western Australia’s most intriguing characters.

I had the great pleasure to hear Mr Forrest speak last week at one of WA Business News’s Success and Leadership events, and it was a great opportunity to gain insight into this character.

Firstly, it was not a run-of-the-mill presentation on Fortescue Metals Group.

It was very much an account of how Mr Forrest claims to run his business, with a team approach that seeks to bring everyone onto the same page, rather than having a disparate collection of people with conflicting demands.

It was a good story and, if FMG works out, we’ll all remember that speech and how he did it.

Of course, it was all Mr Forrest doing what he does best. The lessons for any budding entrepreneur were myriad.

He was ‘on message’ for the whole presentation with his regulation three lines:

• this isn’t me, it’s the team;

• the Pilbara’s resources are so vast it’s unbelievable – it’s just the big boys who want to keep them to themselves; and

• simplicity is the key; don’t deliberately create any obstacle, be it technology or government, which will stand in the way of your goal.

It was beaut stuff.

Naturally, these simple themes were woven into much more complex material for the breakfast audience. The 3-D graphics of the road-trains (that’ right, no haulpaks) in the mines, the surfing video (the Pilbara catching the Asian wave), the jibes about most of the ore currently being mined was discovered “by flying into it” and beautiful photography certainly set the scene.

It was all vintage stuff; a perfect blend of the informative (right down to the telling points made about costs) mixed with the emotive.

To cap it off, this was a day that Mr Forrest appeared on the cover of The Australian newspaper with Cathy Freeman, a massive PR coup which can only be beaten by his Australian Story appearance on the ABC – the closest thing I’ve seen to a near perfect corporate video.

I have to admit, he is very convincing. By the end of the morning we all believed that FMG will succeed.

At least if he fails this time, no-one can claim they didn’t know anything about him. But, as our story on page 12 suggests, FMG now looks more likely to happen to than ever.

Burke as “genius”, hyperbole, surely

A subject of some discussion down here at WA Business News in recent weeks has been Brian Burke’s legacy.

I put it out there a week or so back that I didn’t think he’d done anything good for the state. It is not a view I have been forced to reconsider, despite the tags like “genius” that Mr Burke has gained in recent days.

While I am not of the view that the former premier’s past needs to be trotted out on every occasion, I remain far from convinced that the Burke era offered us anything remarkable.

The most noteworthy achievements I have had put to me were the electrification of Perth’s rail system (in combination with the reopening of the Fremantle line) and Hillary’s marina.

The West Australian’s Norm Aisbett, a journalist I much admire, went further recently with this list:

“Mr Burke’s era saw the initiation of the Dawesville Cut project at Mandurah (the catalyst for the area’s current boom); the Hillarys marina; the Burswood Casino and Superdome, host to the Hopman Cup tennis tournament for 18 years; Challenge Stadium; Fremantle’s renovation for the 1987 America’s Cup defence; a WACA Ground re-vamp; the creation of GoldCorp, with its successful gold coin program; the end of logging in the Shannon River Basin, which became a national park; the creation of the Department of Conservation and Land Management; and the funding of the previously unfunded superannuation obligations of the State,” Aisbett wrote.

“His government was alleged to have paid too much for a 5 per cent stake in the Argyle diamond mine but the stake was later sold at a $5 million profit to the WA Diamond Trust. The mine is now one of the most successful in the world.

“Mr Burke also abolished capital punishment and corporal punishment in schools, re-opened the Perth-to-Fremantle railway line and began planning the northern railway line.”

It’s a longer list than I could provide, but it still has little to get excited about – especially when the dark side of that period is contrasted against it.

Mr Burke has every right to get involved in politics and lobbying but let’s put everything in perspective, especially those prone to his growing role as a peddler of influence. When he had the chance to run things himself, he didn’t exactly do a great job. None of us is perfect, but his was hardly the work of a genius.

Money comes   before ideology

Here’s a final word on that. Isn’t it funny how, for all the Labor party’s anti-capitalism, so many of its former leaders (both state and federal) seem so intent on making riches from business.

And not just normal business, but lobbying and general political persuasion.

I thought that was something that only occurred in the US.


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