Tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes made an audacious bid to take over Australia’s biggest energy company to make it go green faster — but was rebuffed by AGL’s board on Monday morning, on the grounds that the offer wasn’t high enough.
It was an extraordinary move from Cannon-Brookes, one-half of the brains behind software company Atlassian, but it’s hardly out of character for the savvy 42-year-old who in 2002 started the company with Scott Farquhar straight out of university — using credit cards.
Plus, the looming climate crisis is a big-ticket issue for Cannon-Brookes, who has been a driving force for clean-tech in Australia, and a thorn in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s side. Atlassian has already committed to running its operation entirely using renewables by 2025.
One of the kingpins of Australia’s technology industry Daniel Petrie says Cannon-Brookes’ bid for AGL was a great move, and unlike others, he’s not surprised by it.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
“It does three things: firstly, it changes the dynamics between the existing energy players and those that see a different future (and one better for all of us), it shows how lame the federal government is — Angus Taylor is so tied to anything anti-renewable and this sort of move and that by Origin shows just how out of step Taylor and the feds are,” he says.
“Finally, it does show the power of newish wealth to reshape the future in traditional industries. A good omen for more!”
So what else has Cannon-Brookes bet big on in the past? Let’s take a look.
Challenged Elon Musk to a $50 million bet
In 2016-17, South Australia’s blackouts were a renewable hot potato issue, so when the head of Tesla’s battery division boasted he could solve the power problem within 100 days, Cannon-Brookes tweeted “Holy s#%t”.
Emboldened by the idea but dubious of the headline, he tweeted at Elon Musk directly, asking how serious the Tesla co-founder was about “this bet”.
“If I can make the $ happen (& politics), can you guarantee the 100MW in 100 days?” Cannon-Brookes asked Musk.
“Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?” Musk retorted.
The next minute, South Australia had a 129-megawatt-hour battery courtesy of Musk, and Cannon-Brookes conceded the $50 million bet, saying he’d “never been more happy to lose”.
Bought Australia’s most expensive house — ever — in 2018
In 2018, Cannon-Brookes set a new record for the national house price in Australia, splashing out an enormous $100 million for a Sydney home right on the beach.
It was the home of media mogul John Fairfax’s family — a sprawling Fairwater estate in ritzy Point Piper (the place next door was bought by fellow CEO Farquhar for more than $70 million too, which at the time was the second-most expensive price for a house).
Fairwater was designed by John Horbury Hunt and built in 1881 for stockbroker Francis Edward Joseph — then in 1901, Sir James Oswald Fairfax paid £5350 for the two-storey house, the equivalent of about $764,724 today.
But Cannon-Brookes didn’t stop there. He set a suburb record for Woollahra when he picked up a house for a cool $18.5 million, then matched the Southern Highland’s biggest price of $15 million in 2019.
Cannon-Brookes’s heavy property portfolio is chump change considering his $1 billion worth of green energy investments and his personal wealth estimated at $20.18 billion by The Australian Financial Review Rich List 200, on which he was ranked Australia’s third wealthiest person.
Embraced the modern workplace
As the early days of the pandemic kept employees inside their four walls, there was a noticeable tide change in the way we work.
Two years on, some workplaces have embraced the hybrid workforce, but Atlassian went one better, introducing a work-from-anywhere policy.
‘TEAM Anywhere’ allows its 6640 employees to work from any location in countries where Atlassian has a corporate entity — staff are only expected to head into the office four times a year.
And staff love it — 95% of Atlassian employees say it is a great place to work, according to a poll from the Great Place to Work Institute.
Atlassian employee Anthony Doudt wrote a Linkedin post sharing his experience, saying the pivot to remote work had been “remarkably smooth”.
“I’m sure there is a lot happening ‘behind the curtain’ but from what I’ve seen you would think this is how the company has always operated,” Doudt says.
“My remote onboarding was really well done from a company and team perspective and it’s a testament to how great Atlassian’s tools are (we use all our own stuff) and the exceptional people using them.”
When TEAM Anywhere was announced, Cannon-Brookes said he believed a great workplace was more than a physical environment.
“When your values underpin what you do and the decisions you make, reimagining work for the next generation becomes easier.”