16/06/2015 - 05:40

Money can complicate growing up

16/06/2015 - 05:40

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Entrepreneur became a dirty word in WA. Thankfully that was just a phase.

DIALLING DOWN: Bondy’s ensuite in the former Bond Corporation building, and the man himself in more carefree times.

Entrepreneur became a dirty word in WA. Thankfully that was just a phase.

A lot has been written about Alan Bond over the years, and plenty in the past week or so since his death due to complications during heart surgery.

Nevertheless, it would be impossible for a Perth-born and raised business journalist of my generation to let his passing go without comment; for he, more than anyone, encapsulates Western Australia’s rapid and volatile maturation from a sleepy backwater to a moderately important global trading player.

Mr Bond, for want of a better analogy, represented our historical adolescence. His behaviour combined both the abundant energy and unstoppable self-confidence of youth with the senseless risk-taking and destructive selfishness of a teenager.

While other so-called four-on-the-floor entrepreneurs played their parts, Mr Bond was the most high profile, developing a global reputation as he took on brewing, media, mining, property development and yachting with a bravado that masked how poor his real business sense was.

In his favour, he showed Western Australians that we had many advantages in our weather and geography, and that our isolation was not something that should hold us back.

Mr Bond was born in England but came to Perth in 1950 when he was 12, enjoying an upbringing that was basic but full of opportunity.

The picture (right) from my father’s archives illustrates this very well, showing a carefree Mr Bond, taking advantage of Perth’s best attributes – sun and water – a pleasure available to rich and poor.

My father had some business dealings with Mr Bond in the early days of his property development career when he was selling a subdivision at Lesmurdie. While dad’s connections with ‘Bondy’ after those early years was distant, I do recall him deciding to ‘drop in’ at the entrepreneur’s sizeable Dalkeith pad on Victoria Avenue as we were sailing on the Swan River. Mr Bond wasn’t at home, but as a teenager it was an eye opener to see the young adults of the family enjoying themselves of an afternoon.

They may not have been the idle rich, but I’m quite sure they were among the first in Perth from outside the establishment to have access to such wealth.

I never managed to meet Mr Bond. By the time I became a business reporter in this state his focus was elsewhere. I did get to meet many of his cohorts, though, at various moments in their corporate careers. Laurie Connell and Kevin Parry spring to mind, although my abiding memory of the time is failed gym entrepreneur Laurie Potter as he schmoozed with guests during the America’s Cup.

In their heyday, these people were not afraid to think big, and many good times came of that. The America’s Cup was one of those benefits. Fremantle’s historic buildings were saved by the restoration spending that preceded racing.

But along with this naive idea that wealth was something conjured up on the back of big debts and ambitious deals of an ever-increasing scale came a level of excess and, ultimately, greed that will never be forgotten – no matter how many positives we try to remember.

Like a couple of letter writers in the days since his passing, reminding the editors at The West Australian that average investors had lost good money saved over years to Mr Bond’s unscrupulous business practices, it ought not be forgotten that wealth derived in the way it was by many in that era came at the expense of others. It was not win-win.

It took more than a decade for WA’s corporate reputation to be restored, mainly as a result of the solid achievements of companies like Wesfarmers, and stunning failures of east coast businesses like One.Tel and HIH, which proved cowboys live everywhere.

Mr Bond’s re-emergence (in death) to the state and national consciousness serves to remind us all of a time when those in WA’s corporate set lost their bearings, recklessly spending other people’s money without a care about the consequences. Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up in the land of plenty without a clear moral compass.

Taken just a few weeks ago, the photograph above is a curious reminder of that crazy time in WA’s past. It is the spa bath installed in the private 51st floor of what was the Bond Corporation building, now decorated with South32 livery. While many a house might have a spa these days, such a luxurious appointment, complete with telephone, was rare in top homes in the 1980s … let alone CBD offices.

Mr Bond didn’t just lose other people’s money; he took a lot of it. Who else could paint sand dunes green to trick land buyers? That sounds like the real estate sharks in the terrific play Glengarry Glen Ross. Plenty of people believe he salted a vast fortune away from prying eyes when his business collapsed.

During Mr Bond’s various trials he never exhibited remorse for his actions and made a sad mockery of proceedings by imitating illness and memory failure.

I am glad this state has grown up and we can excuse that time as being its misguided youth.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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