Obituary: Alan Bond, businessman

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Born: 22 April, 1938, in London. Died: 5 June, 2015, Murdoch, in Western Australia, aged 77

ALAN Bond’s life story was the rags-to-riches tale of a self-made British-born Australian billionaire, who bankrolled Australia’s extraordinary America’s Cup yachting victory, breaking the longest winning streak in sporting history, before falling spectacularly from grace in Australia’s biggest corporate fraud.

Travelling as a “£10 Pom”, Bond, aged 12, arrived from England with his family in Fremantle, near Perth, Western Australia in 1950. Upon arrival, he remembered standing by his mother’s side in his tweed suit in the scorching heat and staring at the row of tin sheds and concrete wharves thinking: “I’ve landed on the Moon.”

Over almost 60 years in business, Bond enjoyed the notoriety and jet-set lifestyle that accompanied a revered and successful businessman, and came to symbolise the excesses of the 1980s through his purchases of artistic masterpieces and financing of audacious sporting and business feats.

At his peak in the mid-late 1980s, Bond’s company, Bond Corporation went on a huge asset-buying binge acquiring breweries, television stations, commercial property, goldmines and oilfields, while he became one of Australia’s richest men and was feted by politicians, bankers and brokers.

Known as “Bondy” by the locals, at one point the colourful tycoon was the biggest Australian brewer, owning Castlemaine Tooheys, bought for A$1.2 billion, in addition to beer operations, including Heileman, in Wisconsin, US, and in China’s Guangdong Huizhou region; he owned Australia’s Channel Nine TV station and one of the tallest skyscrapers in Hong Kong as well as a range of interests in mining, from gold to nickel.

Bond had the ability and audacity to acquire assets without paying for them. One such occasion was in 1987, when he paid then a record A$54m (£36m) for Vincent van Gogh’s, Irises, with the twist that most of the funds came in the form of vendor finance and from the auctioneer, Sotheby’s.

The same year, Bond initially offered A$400m to Australian media mogul Kerry Packer for Channel Nine, but ended up paying A$1.05bn for it. However, when Bond went bankrupt, Packer made a handsome profit when he bought back the network for half that price. He famously quipped, “You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime, and I’ve had mine.”

After making his first million, Bond admitted it was “less about the money” and more about “doing the deal”. Bond had already been honoured as “Australian of the Year” in 1978 for sponsoring three earlier unsuccessful America’s Cup challenges, however, in September 1983, he entered Australian folklore when he headed the Australia II syndicate that won the Cup, the world’s most prestigious yachting trophy, from the New York Yacht Club and breaking its 132-year winning streak.

In a dramatic turn of events, Australia II, with its then-revolutionary winged keel, came from 3-1 down to win the last three nail-biting races. It was perhaps his proudest moment.

President Ronald Reagan, who received Bond and his crew at the White House, said to him, “Alan, you represent the kind of tenacity with which Americans and Australians can identify… you just kept on coming.”

The shock victory prompted national jubilation with Australia’s prime minister Bob Hawke declaring: “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.”

Bond’s debt-based empire began to crumble though, following the global stock market crash in 1987 and two years later the Bond Corporation announced a loss of A$980m, the largest in Australian corporate history and the value of Bond shares collapsed. Within five years, he was bankrupt, with personal debts totalling A$1.8 billion (£900m), having resigned as chairman and being forced to sell some of his possessions including his townhouse in Kensington, London, which was bought by the press tycoon Conrad Black. Even before his convictions the viability of his investments was questioned.

Following bankruptcy, Bond was charged and sentenced relating to the collapse of Rothwells merchant bank, accused of concealing a multi-million dollar fee that his company made from the deal, but was later acquitted on retrial and released after 90 days.

In 1997 Bond pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years after illegally siphoning off A$1.2bn from one of his companies, Bell Resources, to prop up the cash resources of the ailing Bond Corporation; it was Australia’s biggest-ever corporate fraud. Concurrently, Bond was stripped of his 1984 honour as an Officer of the Order of Australia.

While in jail, Bond gave business lessons to some inmates, before winning a High Court Appeal and being released after just over three years.

Born in Hammersmith, London, in 1938, Bond was the second of two children to Frank and Kathleen. After the war, his father was in and out of hospital and the harsh winter of 1948 prompted him to emigrate. Kathleen, Alan and sister, Geraldine, arrived two years later. Upon arriving in Fremantle, Bond attended the local boys’ high school until aged 14 when he left to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an apprentice sign-writer, despite failing a spelling test set by his employer. He also took evening classes at the local technical college.

Bond had early “brushes” with the law. At 14, he was charged with stealing and being unlawfully on premises. Aged 18, he was arrested for being unlawfully on premises and reportedly admitted planning a robbery.

At 17, he married Eileen Hughes; they divorced 37 years later following innumerable indiscretions, though they remained friends.

Bond soon established Nu-Signs, in Fremantle with his father, which diverged and formed the Bond Corporation in 1959. He started to make money when he branched into property. For two decades he was one of Australia’s best known businessmen, even establishing its first private non-profit university, Bond University, on Queensland’s Gold Coast in 1989.

After his release in 2000, Bond began to rebuild his business interests with schemes that included diamond and oil mining in Africa. By 2008 Bond had amassed another fortune worth A$265m, but he again lost a large amount following the liquidation of several companies in 2010.

Bond was, nevertheless, able to live comfortably in homes in Perth and London, thanks to a network of trusts and private interests that ran from Australia to the Cayman Islands to Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Bond underwent open heart surgery in Perth, on 2 June, to replace valves, but following complications, was put on life support and in an induced coma. He died three days later.

He is survived by Eileen and three of his children, John, Craig and Jody. His second wife took her own life in 2012, and a daughter, Susanne, died in 2000 from a suspected accidental overdose.