To my publisher Michael Wilkinson for his ongoing support, and also to his team, including Jess Lomas.
To Peter Ivany AM for being so actively and passionately involved and writing the foreword .
To Professor Roy Green of UTS for his assistance and advice.
And finally, to all of the wonderful people who agreed to be interviewed, and who opened their minds, hearts and diaries to be part of this book. Some were friends, some friends of friends, and some people whom I didn’t know before I interviewed them. What they all had in common was a propensity to give of themselves, share their life and serve others.
‘Australia is a lucky country’, journalist Donald Horne famously and somewhat facetiously wrote about Australia in 1964.
This quote has been taken to mean different things over the years. What is clear however, is in the five decades since it was made, Australia has continued its ‘lucky’ winning streak.
The only G20 economy not to have had a post Global Financial Crisis recession (in fact we have not had a recession since 1991); a long-term real estate boom and a structural advantage of being the repository for natural resources for which until recently China had a seemingly insatiable appetite. In recent times we have enjoyed low unemployment and stable inflation with the economy driven by a booming mining industry and a protected banking sector.
Whilst the ASX200 has produced solid occasional returns, it sits at the same level as it did in 2007. We are the third richest country on earth due to our natural resources in ratio with our population and size.
In addition, we are blessed with a vast county of natural beauty and a multi-cultural society far from many of the world’s problems.
Yet despite this, the country is not without its vulnerabilities. As the mining boom slowed over the recent past, a so-called two-tier economy became apparent, exposing a chasm between the economic statistics supported by the mining prosperity and ‘the rest’. Our GDP growth has been flat for the past few years with late 2018 numbers presenting a sharp slowdown credited to a reduction in private consumption and in non-residential construction. Our top ten exports are still resources and agricultural products and represent over 70% of our exports. Australia has over two million small businesses (many of which are entrepreneurs), yet the past year has seen a failure rate at its highest in recent history.
Following the demise of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s National Innovation Agenda, states have stepped in to fill the void but with little national coordination.
Entrepreneurialism and innovation are inextricably linked. Innovation is the paradigm, and it is one that Australia must pursue at political, corporate and small business level if it is to remain a leading, successful and relevant nation and economy in the 21st century.
Regardless of when you read this book and the varying economics statistics that may be present at the time, Australia’s economy needs structural change driven by the paradigm shift I espoused earlier.
We cannot rely on natural resources, on booming property prices or on our advantageous position in the high-growth Asian region. We cannot rely on our beauty or our peaceful location. We cannot be – as Donald Horne famously warned we would be – ‘taken by surprise’.
What we need is a cultural change combined with supportive macro-economic policy that embraces not just professional services, an often talked about economic sector, but innovation. We do this through not only talking the talk of innovation but walking the walk. Australia can become a digital and technological hub with the local workforce coupled with the skilled migration we benefit from. But when I say ‘become’, I mean create.
With this as a vision supported by policy, the private sector must lead the way to deliver and execute on this and make it a reality.
Australians can achieve success disproportionate to our size. We have, for example, positioned ourselves as a global film hub and a leading nation in this sector. The world-leading institution that is the Australian Film Television and Radio School, set up by Prime Minister John Gorton and which I chaired, is a case study worth examining and an example of politics, business and education combining to define and create the future of film.
There is every reason it can do the same in technology, which is the driver of current and future innovation.
Innovation is at its most noticeable in the form of its ‘cousin’ – entrepreneurialism, which is where innovation is commercialised for national, societal, and private benefit. This brings a number of benefits to society which are outlined by Michael and the leading innovators he has interviewed in this book.
Entrepreneurship is an act of value creation which results in businesses that create employment and play an influential role in economic growth, improvement in living standards, regional development, export growth, community development, improved branding of a country and perhaps most importantly the creation of a smarter country with the implementation of innovations.
Entrepreneurship can also create heroes. We all know of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. All too often in Australia we celebrate sporting success but denigrate business success, or we associate entrepreneurialism with Christopher Skase and Alan Bond. We see failures, high-profile collapses such as Ansett and Dick Smith; we observe the banking Royal Commission and lose heart at the future of business altogether.
All nations have their challenges in business. Yet many of them embrace entrepreneurialism.
Well-known demographer Bernard Salt argues that ‘half of the ten biggest businesses in America were formed in a single generation.’ Admittedly America gave us Enron, Lehman Brothers and Kodak, but it also gifted us Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon – the biggest companies in the world today, all led or started in the past 30 years by entrepreneurs.
The USA, Israel and China are among the world’s most robust and resilient economies and also among the most entrepreneurial. Australia is far behind. Israel has the highest number of start-ups, per capita, in the world.
Australia is academically strong and education is one of our strongest export areas and international competitive advantages.
Education comes in many forms and one of the greatest is learning from others.
If Australia seeks to become an innovation leader it needs to create centres of excellence and to do so we should be inviting world leaders in innovation, both homegrown and global figures, to set up shop on our shores.
A hub lead by Elon Musk; a centre lead by Steve Wozniak; an Apple innovation centre; and a Google deep mind artificial intelligence centre. These parties and companies represent the point where innovation and entrepreneurialism meet. This position of innovation and business can be explosive for an economy.
Initiatives such as these would cut right through red tape with the right money, people and support, and deliver innovation to us that would propel Australia into the trajectory of Singapore and Israel. It is time to deliver ‘super innovation’ to this great nation and supporting entrepreneurialism is an immediate way to propel this concept.
A key barometer of the success of an entrepreneurial economy is the ratio of venture capital and private equity to GDP. AVCAL reports that in this metric Australia consistently ranks below both the USA and Israel and in fact the OECD average. In recent years, our growth in this area has been outpaced by countries such as Ireland, Poland, and Korea.
We have a strong savings history, but our financial markets are not set up to build, nurture and support businesses over the longer term.
Our angel (seed) investment market is still in its infancy compared to mature markets such as the UK, where significant tax benefits are afforded to investors in start-ups. We have one of the most generous Superannuation schemes in the world, yet that does not translate into significant investment in entrepreneurial lead organisations and start-ups.
The solution lies in a complete overhaul of how we view what it means to be an entrepreneur and how we as Australians understand it. It does not mean to live in Toorak, Vaucluse, Dalkeith, Hamilton, or Malvern. It does not mean to be power-hungry greedy or narcissistic. It means to be a creator, an innovator, a maverick, a visionary. We should not let the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ allow us to beat people up and withdraw our support for them. They are in fact doing that very Australian thing of ‘having a go’. This should be celebrated.
Michael’s book shows the human side of some very successful innovators and entrepreneurs from a cross section of society including business, creativity and founders who are household names and who have created household brands. His interviews with people such as Jimmy Barnes and Lee Kernaghan demonstrate to us another type of innovation – and innovation is the bedrock of entrepreneurialism.
His vast array of interviewees reminds us that while technology is the future, entrepreneurs can operate businesses in any sector. The book shows that to be an entrepreneur means to have a skill and to attach that to a vision and purpose and ‘have a go’. He has been able to open the minds and hearts of some of the most successful people in the entrepreneurial field in Australia, and in fact the world, and this has produced some significant lessons for start-ups, corporate executives, established business operators and politicians to understand.
As a society we owe these people all the guidance, respect and support we can give. We also owe this to ourselves, so we can help them to help our nation create our own Facebooks, Apples and Amazons.
Looking forward to the next 20 years, it is time for Australia to embrace all its blessings and step out of the shadows of exploiting only the resources we have and work together to help entrepreneurs and those who work with them, to build on this amazing nation to create the Australia of tomorrow.
Peter Ivany AM
Peter Ivany AM, FORMER CEO AND MAJOR SHAREHOLDER HOYTS CINEMAS, AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS LEADER
‘If you start thinking you are good at something that is often the day you stop trying to be better and open the back door for someone to come in after you. That’s why we always aim higher. We never feel like we’re done.’
Drew Houston, Co-founder and CEO, Dropbox
‘Doing what you love is what drives you every day.’
Peter Ivany was CEO at the time when Hoyts Cinemas grew from a small chain in Australia to a global business with over 2,000 theatres operating in 12 countries.
After the sale of Hoyts in 1999, Peter built his own Family Office as an investor – Ivany Investment Group. He has a range of diversified investments, including property, private equity, technology, bonds and shares, distressed debt, start-ups, and company turnarounds, both in Australia and overseas. Current investments include IMAX, Sydney Zoo and Allied Credit.
He is a member of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and serves as Chairman of the NIDA Foundation Trust (National Institute of Dramatic Art), the Sydney Swans Foundation (AFL Australian Football League), and the Advisory Council for the Sydney Film Festival. Peter is also a Board member of NIDA, Allied Credit, Sydney Zoo and serves as Chair of the Loftus Peak Advisory Board. He is an Honorary Life Governor of the Jewish Communal Appeal and a Life Member of the Sydney Swans.
Previously Peter was Chairman of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and Chairman of the Jewish International Film Foundation of Australia. He has contributed to the Boards of the MCA, the President’s Council of the Art Gallery NSW, and was a founding member of Events NSW, which is now Destination NSW. Peter is also an Adjunct Professor for the Faculty of Business at the University of Technology Sydney.
In 2007, Peter was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), for service to the community including through charity fundraising as well as contribution to Jewish causes, the arts, sporting organisations and business education.
To Peter and his wife Sharon, business was always a family affair. All successful in their own right, Peter and Sharon’s children are passionate about the family’s philanthropic projects and actively participate in regular reviews of the family’s charitable projects.
The Gold Card
Peter Ivany’s signature was very familiar to me in my 20s. I was one of the fortunate holders of the Hoyts Gold Card, a special card issued to a small number of people which entitled you to:
- Feel great when you handed it over at the cinema;
- Two free tickets to any movie (Hoyts had all the best releases).
I distinctly recall being at the cinema at Westfield in the late ’90s when a server behind the counter came running up to me as I made my way to the cinema after obtaining my tickets.
‘Is it true?’ he said.
‘Is what true?’ I replied. ‘That you know Peter Ivany?’
‘Yes, I do,’ I replied. ‘He is a family friend. How did you know?’
‘His signature is on the back of the Gold Card you showed to get your tickets. He is a wonderful CEO.’
This story stuck with me because most people working on the front lines of a business don’t know or care who the CEO is of the whole company. The fact he knew and cared was recognition of the mettle of Peter Ivany.
Peter joined Hoyts when he was relatively young and took the role as CEO when no one else put their hand up. Using Rupert Murdoch as inspiration, he was determined to make the business global.
Pl: ‘At the time I was building, Rupert Murdoch had already become a global businessman. I looked at what he was doing, and it inspired me. I was trying to build a global business, so I took a lot of inspiration from what he was doing, particularly as a fellow Australian. He really drives his vision.’
Things came full circle for Peter when, in 1998 he was able to interview Rupert Murdoch on stage at the Hoyts’ annual conference, just as he (Peter) had reached a significant pinnacle himself as a global businessman.
Pl: ‘The greats live and breathe every aspect of their business. It is with them every waking hour of their life and even when they are asleep. The greats wake up in the middle of the night and make notes on the business. The greats are always a step ahead, and the greats are always passionate about their business.’
Peter says there were many sleepless nights as he built his business – juxtaposed from the glossy annual reports and opening nights. The reality was that he and his team put in a lot of hard work.
Hoyts was originally majority owned by Peter’s wife’s (Sharon’s) father, the late Leon Fink. In time, the family was advised to corporatise the business; Peter volunteered to take on the role as CEO and subsequently bought out many of his family members (with the help of Lend Lease and Hellman and Friedman private equity) and grew the business under a renewed vision.
Peter’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz who immigrated to Australia. His drive was something that Peter observed and took on. He felt an obligation to do something to honour his parents’ sacrifice and felt it imperative to optimise every opportunity he received, always grateful for being so fortunate.
Pl: ‘I believe that any challenging situations I have been in in life have helped me grow as I have had to work through them. I feel a responsibility rather than an entitlement.’
This philosophy, coupled with the values instilled in his formative years, motivated Peter to lead a significant business and have a passion to contribute to the community. It is clear, that he weaves it through all of his activities today.
Lessons he teaches his kids
- Back yourself
- Don’t get confused by other people’s dogmas
Importance of finance
Peter emphasises the importance of the strong Chief Financial Officer.
Pl: ‘Throughout my time at Hoyts and now as an investor, I have always had a strong CFO. Not someone who would challenge what I saw entrepreneurially, but who could provide balance. You need a CFO to stabilise the business and create an environment where your assumptions are challenged and your ideas tested.’
A believer in lifelong learning, Peter sets himself one challenge every year. On top of that, he regularly attends Harvard and undertakes courses to update his knowledge. He reads voraciously and says he is a ‘dreamer’ at heart.
Pl: ‘Money is not what drives you every day. Doing what you love is what drives you every day.’
Selling to Kerry Packer
When he felt it was the right time to move on, Peter made the tough decision to sell the business. This is always an emotional affair for any entrepreneur.
Peter sold Hoyts to the Packer family after conducting direct negotiations with James Packer in 1999.
The sale both cemented Peter’s position as one of Australia’s leading international entrepreneurs and crystallised the legacy of Hoyts itself.
A Sydney Morning Herald article of March 4, 2010 explains the intriguing history of Hoyts from Peter’s sale and tenure and into the future. ‘A decade after arriving from the US in the 1980s, the local Hoyts operations took a colourful turn when a consortium of Hellman & Friedman, Lend Lease and Hoyts management, including Peter Ivany, a son-in-law of the founding Fink family, bought the business. It was floated in 1996 before the late Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings took it private in 1999.’
After Packer’s ownership, the business changed hands again to a private equity organisation and then in 2015, China’s Wanda Corporation bought Hoyts. Wanda is a large commercial property developer and the world’s largest cinema operator.
The trajectory of Hoyts ownership is as fascinating as it is varied, and the fact it is now owned by the well-regarded Wanda group is in large part due to the solid foundations built by Peter and his team.
Pl: ‘I finally had a good night’s sleep for the first time in many years when the sale had gone through. I realised I had that financial security.’
After the money was in the bank, Peter didn’t go out and engage in hedonistic celebrations. That’s not his style. Instead, he redoubled his commitment to charity and other not-for-profit boards, a commitment he has increased to the extent that today it comprises 50% of his time and a significant portion of his funds. This is an area of his life he takes very seriously and with which he seems very determined to continue to effect positive change.
Pl: ‘The Scorecard of Life is how much you have contributed to others and what you do with the money for others.’
lvany Investment Group
A ‘Family Office’ is a term given to an investment fund for a family’s wealth. It is usually when a family has sold a business and has capital and wants to invest it as a business.
Peter set up Ivany Investment Group after selling Hoyts. It is an investment house investing funds for his immediate family. In global terms this is referred to as a Family Office, although this is not a common term in Australia.
Pl: ‘We don’t require large numbers of people, but we have a strong and loyal team. I have an accounts division (led by CFO Scott Sheedy), an assistant, and Colin Resnick (ex-Hoyts CFO) who has been with me for over 30 years and sits on the Board of IMAX and some of my other investments.’
What does a family office invest in?
Ivany Investment Group’s assets are capital, experience and credibility. Peter acknowledges it has been a ten-year path to firmly entrench Ivany investment Group in the market.
Every Family Office or investment company has a different philosophy and is usually driven both by the market and by the vision of the Principal.
Ivany Investment Group invests in four main assets classes:
- Property (mainly lending rather than development)
- Private Equity
- Technology (mature businesses based in Silicon Valley or Israel usually).
Some investments are passive and held through funds and others, such as the private equity assets (e.g. the Sydney Zoo) are active. When the investments are active it means Peter is invested and sits on the board, using his experience, network and expertise to guide the people he is backing.
Peter’s investments in private equity are typically held from three to five years on average, although some for as long as seven and some such as IMAX, indefinitely.
The Group has developed its own sophisticated computer programmes and Peter says this has really refined its investment edge.
Peter has invested in some high-profile assets including IMAX Cinema in Sydney, BASE backpackers chain, Video Ezy, and Tourism Asset Holdings Australia (TAHL). Peter was a board member and significant shareholder in TAHL which he exited after a successful sale to Abu Dabi Investment Authority (ADIA). Managed by Accor Hotels, TAHL was Australia’s largest hotel owner.
Peter is currently engaged in a substantial private equity project to build a new zoo in Blacktown in Western Sydney called the Sydney Zoo. Peter is enthusiastic about the community benefits of the zoo, and it is clear that these are important outcomes to him. Social benefits are a key consideration prior to his deployment of capital and strategic support.
Owing to Peter’s lifelong passion for the arts, the group also invests, ad hoc, in film and theatre, something that started 25 years ago when he was a founding investor in Les Miserables, from which he still earns revenue to this day, thanks to his founding investment status. He is invested in Phantom of the Opera and more recently the Rocky Horror Show, Kinky Boots, The King and I and Thriller.
Peter’s business career is far from over, but his legacy to date has been substantial.
He created a global business which has made a substantial return for all its owners, now a very esteemed company. Further, Sydney’s 2MMM Radio was bought and owned for a period by Hoyts media, which oversaw its growth during that time. It remains a unique asset, in that in addition to being a leading network, it was also a national one.
Peter has also contributed to the recent success of NIDA and AFTRS (Australian Film Television and Radio School), both very important organisations in Australia’s arts community on whose boards he has sat. Additionally, his involvement in the Jewish Film Festival has seen it grow over twenty-eight years from a not-for-profit to a sustainable business making sizable cultural contributions.
It is a truly entrepreneurial result that all of Peter’s creations are physically manifested and can be seen and experienced. All continue their success to date. This is something of which Peter is rightfully proud, and it underscores the viability of his creations.
Peter’s closing advice for other entrepreneurs is, ‘Failure can be a precursor to success and not necessarily an obstacle.’