01/12/2014 - 10:34

WA’s more JR than Alexis

01/12/2014 - 10:34


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Business dynasties are relatively hard to find in youthful WA.

WA’s more JR than Alexis

DYNASTY is a word that conjures up so many emotive references, beyond the simple meaning of a sequence of rulers from the same family.

In Asia, dynasties tend to reflect long periods of relative stability controlled by strong clans and highborn rulers.

While there is some of this in Europe’s rich history, dynasties there seem to more fluid, where many in the region’s ruling aristocracies manoeuvred through the turbulence of democratisation to retain considerable land and fortunes, as well as their titles in many cases.

In the US, naturally, the experience has been different. Dynasties there are typically old wealth generated during the North America’s industrialisation. A small element of that is tied to fortunes made on its frontiers, such as Texas and Colorado, which were famously highlighted in the 1980s soap operas Dallas and Dynasty.

Australia is a little different. The parallel with the US experience exists in a much smaller way in the eastern seaboard. In Western Australia, dynasties are hard to come by due to its remoteness, sparse population and recent modern history.

Nevertheless, our business world has some great stories around family business that are unique and deserve to be told.

And with the history of modern corporate entities spanning a similar time period to the European settlement of this state, it ought to be no surprise that some of WA’s companies have been around as long as many other global names that we think of as historic.

Lionel Samson Sadleirs is the nation’s oldest operating family business, with five generations following its founding fathers, who established it in the year WA was colonised.

That many WA businesses never became big enough to sustain themselves independently is partly due to the youthfulness of WA and the role of the fast-evolving corporate structures of the past 200 years compared with the old model of landed gentry that prevailed in Europe.

New wealth tied up in companies is far more fickle than old money tied to the land.

And if the modern era has included both the birth and extinction rate of business entities accelerate, then few places would have felt that change more than WA, a frontier corporate environment that had its own stock exchange for much of the past century.

Many of the former family companies that we showcase in our Business Dynasties feature caught the WA bug and sought a stock market listing. Most of those have since been taken over and some, like the Bunnings family, found the process a little distasteful.

But that is the stock market. It is open and transparent, not secretive and closed like the world of family businesses where, when done well, the special sauce can be handed down from generation to generation with a much higher degree of respect for long-term thinking and owners’ lifestyles.

While many of these companies have disappeared, it is worth reminding ourselves of the mark they made on WA. And the wealth generated is not lost when the family sells the business.

As with the case of the Bunning fortune, part of that was invested very successfully in timber plantation development to make more wealth long after they had parted company with the hardware chain that bears their name.


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