Members of the BRW Rich 200 list consistently report that their indescribable wealth is a by-product of their activities in business and investment. By their own account, they are not motivated by wealth. Nevertheless, wealth finds them, and in many cases, begets more wealth.
What kind of leaders do the super-wealthy make, and what kind of leadership makes them super wealthy?
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Wealth: 2012 $29 billion*
Style: Lean and mean
Now estimated to be the richest woman in the world as a result of more than doubling her fortune in the past 12 months, Gina Rinehart’s leadership style might best be summed up as lean and mean.
The executive team at Hancock Prospecting is very lean considering the size of the operation. As its chair, Rinehart relies on a four man team of the company’s two biggest coal mines: executive director, Tad Watroba; chief financial officer and company secretary in one, Jay Newby; general counsel, Terry Walsh; and Paul Mulder, managing director.
Rinehart’s fierce protection of her fortune through the courts – including her sustained battles with family members – would earn the epithet “mean”, at least from the broader community. Her propensity for viscous and prolonged legal battles gained notoriety when she fought her father’s second wife, Rose Porteous, in a five year slanging match against her claim on her late husband’s estate. The matter was settled out of court in 2003.
Mid-fight with Porteous, Rinehart took on the biggest company in Australia, the miner BHP (now BHP Billiton), suing them for $200 million as she struggled to sort out her father’s estate.
Rinehart’s pièce de résistance has to be her current battle with three of her four children for control of a trust that holds about 25% of Hancock Prospecting.
So great is Rinehart’s recourse to the courts, word on the ground in Perth is that no lawyer can work for her; they are all conflicted. To continue her legal battles, Rinehart has to import lawyers from the east.
Wealth: $245 million
Style: Inclusive and generous
In stark contrast with Rinehart, Ken Grenda’s leadership style is inclusive and generous in the extreme.
Grenda inherited a bus company – both driving and making buses – started by his father 66 years ago. He hit the headlines last year after distributing $20 million, part of the proceeds from the sale of his family’s three companies. He pointed out at the time that the company’s success was due to the contribution of his staff.
Grenda is no longer leader of the family companies, although he retains minority share in one of them and is still involved to some extent, but his long rein at the helm was characterised by a down-to-earth, collegial style. He started as a bus driver, and was always called by his first name.
Unlike Rinehart, Grenda also distributed the proceeds from the sale throughout his family immediately, telling BRW: “… you don’t want to do a Gina Rinehart and the kids inherit when they are 80”.
Wealth: $820 million
Maha Sinnathamby is a property developer like no other. He is driven by a dream, and a sense of purpose to transform the quality of the communities in which Australians can live. His development project in Queensland, Greater Springfield, has been 20 years in the making so far, and is only 13% complete. It already has 23,000 people living on it, attracted in part by the millions spent on public facilities, such as a $30 million park called Robelle Domain. Malaysian born, Sinnathamby thanks education for his fortunes today, and is determined that his community will prize education, health, and wellbeing. This includes building an integrated “Health City”, a 52-hectare area offering access to “various health services”.
But that is not enough, Sinnathamby says on his website: “Our commitment to health is not just about access to services, it is about creating a healthy city which uses master planning to encourage sustainable and healthy transport like walking and cycling.”
Sinnathamby 2IC and CEO of Springfield is Jim Varghese, a passionate advocate of leadership that is fired by a sense of moral purpose. Varghese believes businesses that do not address fundamental human values will fail, while those that believe in their purpose will triumph. Varghese runs a leadership training series expounding of tapping into the profound nature of work.
Wealth: $1.09 billion
Style: Lone Wolf
Len Ainsworth doesn’t like to share, and it is a quality his children inherited, along with a large fortune.
The entrepreneurial Ainsworth turned his father’s dental equipment manufacturing factory, which he inherited in the 1950s, into a far more lucrative affair: the poker machine maker, Aristocrat. With an iron will, the single-minded Ainsworth guided his enterprise through the wild decades of business in New South Wales, fending off attacks from the gambling underworld that included blowing the roof of the factory with a bomb.
Faced with cancer diagnosis in the 90s, Ainsworth distributed his shares to his seven children. He lived, but they wouldn’t give him back a stake in the company or any control.
Undeterred, Ainsworth set up another pokie making company, Ainsworth Gaming Technology. He has never made the mistake of losing control again; he is still at the helm despite his 88 years, and says he will cede control only when he is taken out in a box.
Wealth: $300 million
Style: Consultation and collaboration
In the awful aftermath of her husband’s sudden death, Patricia Ilhan said she would carry on John Ilhan’s work: running the mobile phone retail chain, Crazy John’s. In 2007, John Ilhan died suddenly at age 42, leaving his wife, who had four children including a newborn, at the helm of the business, and of the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation, a project the couple set up after finding their daughter had a deadly allergy to peanuts.
John Ilhan was an ebullient character; Patricia is warm and friendly, but much quieter. Within months, after listening to the advice of a group of trusted advisers, Ilhan decided to sell her share stake in the business. Her trust in others took a knock when she ended up in a legal battle with an old friend, but her style remains one of working with advisers to invest her $300 million fortune, up from $297 million last year, across a conservative portfolio of property, equities, and cash, with a splash of alternative investments and international shares.
*Source: The estimated minimum wealth for all Rich List 2012 member is sourced from BRW.