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Kerry Packer



Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer AC (17 December 1937 – 26 December 2005), son of Sir Frank Packer, was an Australian publishing, media and gaming tycoon who owned the Nine Network. He was famous for his outspoken nature, wealth, expansive business empire and clashes with the Australian Taxation Office and the Costigan Commission.

At the time of his death, Packer was the richest and one of the most influential men in Australia. In 2004 Business Review Weekly magazine estimated Packer's net worth at AUD 6.5 billion ($6.5 billion; about USD 5.4 billion).

Additional recommended knowledge

Contents

Business

Packer, through the family company Consolidated Press Holdings, was the major shareholder, with a 38% holding, in Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), which owns the Nine television network and Australian Consolidated Press, which produces many of Australia's top-selling magazines. He was involved in a number of other gambling and tourism ventures, notably the Crown Casino in Melbourne.

Packer was widely respected in business circles, courted by politicians on both sides, and he was widely regarded as one of the most astute businessmen of his time, despite the fact that he had been a poor student.

Although Packer's reputation as an astute businessman was legendary and he did make some good investments, he was by no means a self-made man -- his grandfather and his father Frank Packer had built up the Consolidated Press empire and its related holdings over many decades. As pointed out by internet news outlet Crikey if $100 million had been invested in the Australian sharemarket in September 1974 through a balanced portfolio of the top 200 companies, that portfolio would be worth a lot more than $6.9 billion in December 2005, possibly as much as $11 billion. Moreover, Packer was not the first choice to take over the running of the family's business empire -- in fact his father had intended that Kerry's older brother Clyde Packer would take over the company, but Clyde fell out with his father in the early Seventies and left Australia for good.

Kerry's independent business life began after his father's death in 1974, when he inherited control of the family's controlling share in PBL, valued at $AUD100 million. Further, his principal Australian investments in television and casinos were highly protected from competition by government regulation which Packer and his employees worked very hard to have maintained.

The Packer family's business reputation suffered a blow when One.Tel, a telco which his son James Packer had invested in, collapsed in 2001.

Kerry Packer was also one of Australia's largest landholders, a fact that contributed in 2003 to a discovery of a deposit of rubies on one of his huge properties.

The Packer empire includes magazines and television networks, telecommunications, petrochemicals, heavy engineering, a 75% stake in the Perisher Blue ski resort, diamond exploration, coalmines and property, a share in the Foxtel cable TV network, and investments in the lucrative casino business in Australia and overseas.

Media interests

The "Packer Empire"

The Packer family has long been involved in media. Packer's grandfather Robert Clyde Packer owned two Sydney newspapers whilst his father, Sir Frank Packer, was one of Australia's first media moguls, and Kerry's son, James Packer, is Executive Chairman of PBL.

Sir Frank wanted Kerry to experience work in the Newspaper Industry from the ground up, so Packer started in the loading dock of the Sydney newspaper The Telegraph, loading papers.

He was not originally destined for the role, but in the early 1970s Kerry took the place of the designated successor, his older brother, the late Clyde Packer, after Clyde fell out with their father, quit PBL and moved to America. Kerry took over the running of PBL in 1974, on the death of his father.

Alan Bond media buyback

In 1987 Packer made a fortune at the expense of disgraced tycoon Alan Bond. It was widely reported that he sold Bond the Nine Network at the record price of AUD$1.05 billion in 1987, and then bought it back three years later for a mere $250 million, when Bond's empire was collapsing. Later, on the subject, he famously quipped; "You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime, and I've had mine". Packer was then able to re-invest the proceeds in a 25% share in the Foxtel pay TV consortium.

After the sale to Bond, Packer said that he had regretted the decision to sell Nine and wished he had not gone through with the transaction. At the 2006 PBL AGM, Kerry's son James told of the true complexities of the deal. Kerry received $800 million in cash, with $250 million left in Bond Media as subordinated debt. As Alan Bond went under, Packer converted this $250 million into a 37% stake in Bond Media.

There remained $500 million of debt sitting in Bond Media. Packer received $800 million in cash before receiving a free 37% equity stake that put a debt-included value of $500 million on the Nine Network, which by then included Channel Nine in Brisbane.[1]

Hands on business approach

Packer was known to sometimes take a direct interest in the editorial content of his papers, although he was far less interventionist than the notoriously hands-on Rupert Murdoch.

Packer also occasionally interfered directly in the programming of his TV stations, and during the early 1990s he famously called his Sydney station, TCN-9 and ordered its personnel to "Get that shit off the air," referring to Australia's Naughtiest Home Videos hosted by Doug Mulray. The show was cut during its airing on national television.1

It was also said that he often manipulated broadcasts of cricket himself, in order to ensure that the end of a cricket match was broadcast, despite previously set television broadcast schedules.

Government inquiry and legal challenges

Packer faced a 1991 Australian government inquiry into the print media industry with some reluctance, but great humour. When asked to state his full name and the capacity in which he appeared, he replied: "Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer. Reluctantly."

Packer fronted the inquiry over allegations that he had some secret control over the content of the Fairfax papers (an organisation that Packer had wished to purchase for sometime, but was restricted from via cross media ownership laws).

During the inquiry he repeatedly berated the politicians conducting it, and the government. When asked about his company's tax minimisation schemes, he replied: "Of course I am minimising my tax. And if anybody in this country doesn't minimise their tax, they want their heads read, because as a government, I can tell you you're not spending it that well that we should be donating extra!"

At the time of his death, the Nine Network was the jewel in the PBL crown. Although it had a tough year in 2005 against rival Seven Network (aided largely by US TV hits such as Desperate Housewives and Lost) Nine still finished the year as the number one network.

Founder of World Series Cricket

Main article: World Series Cricket

Outside Australia, Packer was best known for founding World Series Cricket. In 1977 the Nine cricket rights deal led to a confrontation with the cricket authorities, as top players from several countries rushed to join him at the expense of their international sides.

One of the leaders of the "rebellion" was England captain Tony Greig. Greig remains a commentator on the Nine Network's payroll. Packer's aim was to secure broadcasting rights for Australian cricket, and he was largely successful. In the 1970s the global cricket establishment fiercely opposed Packer in the courts. To counter the establishment, Packer hired the ten best Senior Counsels in the UK and put them on retainers, stipulating that they were not to take on any additional work during the court case (the sole purpose of which was to deny the establishment the best legal minds to prosecute their case). When he died he was mourned with a minute's silence at the MCG as one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport.

Packer was famously quoted from a 1976 meeting with the Australian Cricket Board, with whom he met to negotiate the rights to televise cricket. According to witnesses, he said: "There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?" [1]

Controversy

Packer was often the centre of controversy. One of the earliest incidents occurred in 1962, when his father was trying to take over the Anglican Press, a small publisher run by Francis James. According to author Richard Neville, Frank Packer was angered by James' refusal to sell the Anglican Press, so he sent Kerry and some burly friends to pressure him into selling. They forced their way in and reportedly began vandalising the premises, but James was able to barricade himself in his office and call his friend Rupert Murdoch, Packer's most powerful rival. Murdoch quickly dispatched his own team of 'heavies', who threw Kerry and friends out. Not surprisingly, the Murdoch press had a field day with the news that the son of Australia's biggest media tycoon had been caught brawling in the street.

Like Murdoch, Packer's critics saw ever-expanding cross-media holdings as a potential threat to media diversity and freedom of speech. He also repeatedly came under fire for his companies' alleged involvement in tax evasion schemes and for the extremely low amounts of company tax that his corporations are reported to have paid over the years. He fought repeated battles with the Australian Taxation Office over his corporate taxes.

His most severe legal challenge came in 1984 with the Costigan Commission alleging (using the codename of "the squirrel", renamed "the Goanna" in media reports[2]) that he was involved in tax evasion and organised crime, including drug trafficking. He successfully counter-attacked the Commission with the assistance of his counsel Malcolm Turnbull. In 1987 the charges were formally dismissed by Federal Attorney-General Lionel Bowen. Mystery still surrounds Packer's receipt of a "loan" of $225,000 in cash from Brian Ray a bankrupt Queensland businessman.[2]

Notwithstanding the significant efforts made to preserve his security and privacy, Packer suffered two mysterious break-ins at his companies' headquarters in Park Street, Sydney:

  • in 1995 $5.4 million worth of gold bars, and a Vegemite jar full of gold nuggets, the provenance of which was never publicly explained, were stolen from Packer's personal safe [3];
  • in 2003 a licensed Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol was stolen from a desk drawer on the executive level. Packer was not charged with failing to "keep safe" the weapon but he did subsequently surrender his firearms license [4].

Packer courted controversy by breaking the sports boycott of apartheid South Africa which prevented South African sportsmen from representing their country. Packer chose to break it by recruiting a number of prominent South African cricketers to play on his World Series Cricket Team. His timing was heavily criticised, coming just months after the Soweto riots and the death of Steve Biko, murdered by the members of the South African security forces.

Personal life

His primary schooling suffered greatly when he was stricken with a severe bout of poliomyelitis at age eight, and he was confined to an iron lung for nine months. His father apparently thought little of his son's abilities, once cruelly describing him as "the family idiot", yet Kerry steered PBL to heights far beyond anything his father or brother achieved. In an interview with Ray Martin, Packer claimed that he was "academically stupid" and survived school at Geelong Grammar School through sport. Even throughout his adult life, Packer apparently found reading difficult, and is believed to have suffered from dyslexia . In an interview, former employee Trevor Sykes stated that "He didn't read much on the printed page. If you didn't want Kerry to read something, you wrote more than a one-page memo." [5].

Kerry Packer and his wife of 42 years, Roslyn, had two children, a daughter Gretel (born 1966), and a son James. The Packers had two grandchildren, Chessie, 10, and Ben, 7, from Gretel's first marriage to British financier Nick Barham [6], and at the time of Kerry Packer's death, Gretel and her partner Shane Murray were expecting their first child together, William. [7]

Packer was a keen polo player, a longtime heavy smoker and an avid gambler, fabled for his titanic wins and losses. In 1999, it was reported that a three-week losing streak at London casinos cost him almost $28 million -- described at the time as the biggest reported gambling loss in British history.[citation needed]

The same report stated that he had once won $33 million (Australian) at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas and that he often won as much as $7 million each year during his annual holidays in the UK. Packer's visits were a risky affair for the casinos, as his wins and losses could make quite a difference to the finances of even bigger casinos. Packer was also known for his sometimes volcanic temper, and for his perennial contempt for the media and journalists.

Packer is famously quoted for an exchange in a poker tournament at the Stratosphere Casino, where a Texan oil investor was attempting to engage him in a game of poker. Upon the Texan saying "I'm worth $60,000,000!" Packer apparently pulled out a coin and asked nonchalantly, "heads or tails?",referring to a $100,000,000 wager(according to Bob Stupak's biography). Some variations of the story put the sum at $60-100,000,000 and claim the line was "I'll toss you for it".[citation needed]

After Packer's death the Sydney Morning Herald reported that from about 1995, Packer had transferred control of significant amounts of Sydney suburban real estate to Julie Trethowan, the manager (from 1983) of the Packer owned Sydney city health and fitness club, the Hyde Park Club. [8] [9] and [10]. Trethowan was subsequently confirmed as having been Packer's mistress [11].

Failing health

Packer reportedly suffered as many as eight heart attacks. In 1990, while playing polo at Warwick Farm, Sydney, he suffered a heart attack that left him clinically dead for six minutes. Packer was revived and later famously told reporter Ray Martin on A Current Affair, "The good news is there is no devil. The bad news is there is no heaven." It was not common for an ambulance to have a defibrillator at the time - it was purely by chance that the ambulance which responded to the call had one fitted. After recovering, Packer donated a large sum to the New South Wales Ambulance Service to pay for equipping all NSW ambulances with a portable defibrillator (now colloquially known as "Packer Whackers"). He told Nick Greiner "I'll go you 50/50", and the NSW State government paid the other half of the cost. Packer underwent heart bypass surgery in New York in 1998.

He also suffered from a chronic kidney condition for many years, and in 2000 he made headlines when his long-serving helicopter pilot, Nick Ross, donated one of his own kidneys to Packer for transplantation.

The transplant was covered in detail by the Australian TV documentary program Australian Story, a rare occasion on which Packer granted a media interview (and, to the surprise of many, not to his own network; Australian Story is produced by the public network, ABC).

After recovering from the operation, Packer launched an organ transplant association in memory of cricketer David Hookes.

Death

Kerry Packer died of kidney failure at the age of 68 on 26 December, 2005, shortly before 11pm (AEDT) [12], at home in Sydney, Australia, with his family by his bedside. Knowing that his health was failing, he instructed his doctors not to treat him with curative intent or by artificially prolonging his life with dialysis. He told his cardiologist earlier in the week that he was "running out of petrol" and wanted to "die with dignity".

Due to Packer's ownership of Nine, the death was announced to the public by broadcaster Richard Wilkins, on the Network's Today program:

"Mrs Kerry [Roslyn] Packer and her children James and Gretel sadly report the passing last evening of her husband and their father Kerry. He died peacefully at home with his family at his bedside. He will be lovingly remembered and missed enormously. Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced."

His private funeral service was held on December 30 2005 at the family's country retreat, Ellerston, near Scone in the Hunter Valley [13].

State Memorial Service

An offer of a state memorial service was extended to, and accepted by the Packer family, which was held on 17 February 2006 at the Sydney Opera House [14].

Close friend Alan Jones was MC at the memorial service, which featured speeches from son and heir James, Russell Crowe on behalf of daughter Gretel Packer, Prime Minister John Howard and Richie Benaud. Attendees included Tom Cruise (a friend of James Packer) and his partner Katie Holmes, Greg Norman, members of the Australian cricket team, and past and present figures from both sides of politics.

The granting of this honour was widely questioned as it was funded by tax-payers, as Packer was famous for his tax minimisation.

Further reading

  • Barry, Paul (1993). The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer. Sydney: Bantam/ABC Books. ISBN 1-86359-075-7. 
  • Westfield, Mark (2000). The Gatekeepers. Sydney/London: Pluto Press/Comerford and Miller. ISBN 1-86403-102-6. 
  • Stone, Gerald (2000). Compulsive Viewing: the inside story of Packer's Nine Network. Ringwood, Victoria: Viking. ISBN 0-670-88690-4. 
  • Stone, Gerald (2007). Who Killed Channel 9?. Sydney: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4050-3815-7. 

References

  1. ^ Mayne, Stephen. "Packer explodes Alan Bond myth", Crikey, 27 October, 2006 (retrieved 27 October 2006). 
  2. ^ John Huxley, Costigan angry and sticking to his guns, Sydney Morning Herald, February 21, 2006
Persondata
NAME Packer, Kerry Francis Bullmore
ALTERNATIVE NAMES
SHORT DESCRIPTION Australian publishing, media and gaming tycoon
DATE OF BIRTH 17 December, 1937
PLACE OF BIRTH
DATE OF DEATH 26 December, 2005
PLACE OF DEATH Sydney, Australia
 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kerry_Packer". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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