14/12/2004 - 21:00

Sport links in business

14/12/2004 - 21:00

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SPORT is rarely far from business in the world of Neil Hamilton, who is a huge fan of Australian Rules and Rugby Union football.

Sport links in business

SPORT is rarely far from business in the world of Neil Hamilton, who is a huge fan of Australian Rules and Rugby Union football.

Many of the companies he works with have notable sporting connec-tions (See list, page 12.).

Integrated Group, run by rugby fan Jon Whittle, has its corridors and meeting rooms lined with sporting memorabilia, and its directors include former international fly-half Paul McLean.

Insurance Australia Group boasts another rugby international, Michael Hawker, as its chief executive.

The rugby connection extends to STW Sports & Events, whose national chairman is former Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen, the man behind the team’s success in the 1999 World Cup.

At Challenge Bank, Mr Hamilton shared the boardroom table with another big rugby fan in managing director Tony Howarth.

“We are both fanatical rugby followers and we’ll go anywhere to see a good game,” Mr Howarth said.

The ties between sport and business were strongest at the West Coast Eagles and its parent company Indian Pacific, which Mr Hamilton chaired from 1987 to 1989.

Football was very different back then, with the Eagles coming close to financial collapse in their opening year.

The original plan for the Eagles had the club sitting under the ownership of a publicly listed company, Indian Pacific, which was supposed to build a range of leisure and entertainment activities.

The public float was a disaster, but despite this setback Indian Pacific’s founding directors were swept up in the extravagance of the 1980s and spent money accordingly.

Mr Hamilton said Indian Pacific was “out of control” and he was ruthless when he stepped in to tackle the problem, ousting the entire board, including his then friend and business partner Richard Colless, who wanted to stay on as chairman.

Mr Hamilton led a small group, comprising Mr Colless, publican Murray McHenry, property developer Mark Hohnen, and the founders of property group Armstrong Jones, Ray Armstrong and Rob Jones, who rescued the club by injecting $5 million.

Mr Hamilton is justifiably proud of the turnaround during this term as chairman.

He also played a role in the restructuring of football administration, culminating in the formation in 1989 of the WA Football Commission.

The board of Indian Pacific subsequently invited a takeover offer from the WAFC but a small group of shareholders, including Mr Hamilton, held out for more than a decade.

Mr Hamilton said the dispute had little to do with money and much more to do with ensuring the Eagles retained some autonomy.

“We fought for that for years and we won eventually,” long-time friend Murray McHenry said.

Minter Ellison partner and former WAFC commissioner Kevin Edwards remembers Mr Hamilton having “very strong ideas”.

“He certainly took a very strong stand,” Mr Edwards said.

Former WAFC chief executive Jeff Ovens has similar memories.

“He was certainly passionate about what he believes in” said Mr Ovens, who added that Mr Hamilton was “very pragmatic, always looking for a solution”.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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