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Great Aussie entrepreneurs


It’s no secret that Australia celebrates entrepreneurial spirit.

In the most recent Amway Global Entrepreneurship report, it was found that Australians regarded entrepreneurialism third most positively in the world.

In surveying over 26,000 people over 24 countries, 84% of respondents in Australia viewed upon entrepreneurship favourably.

Small wonder then that Australia has produced some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs.

The country that gave the world Ugg boots, Vegimite and refrigerators also gave the world the following three tycoons.

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch, who started his business life running a small newspaper in Adelaide, has a net worth over $6bn and owns some of the most influential news networks in the world. From the outset he was preoccupied with building a media empire, not just buying media businesses in Australia but also soon expanding into the US and UK.

Murdoch, born in 1931, founder and CEO of the News Corporation, one of the largest and most influential media groups in the world. Murdoch's mammoth corporation encompasses film, print, the internet and more.

His empire includes networks such as the Fox Broadcasting Company, the National Geographic Channel and satellite TV company Sky. The News Corporation also manages major newspapers such as the New York Post and UK-based tabloid The Sun.

Turkish-born Ilhan was not as crazy as people thought, becoming the owner of the largest privately owned mobile phone company in Australia

In the 2000s, Murdoch became a leading investor in satellite television, movies and the internet and now tops BRW magazine's 2010 Executive Rich list. The media veteran's influence is so great that he has private meetings with pretty much every US President and Australian Prime Minister.

Of The News Corporation, whose titles have a decidedly conservative bent (although the topless page threes that are a staple of The Sun represent a striking contradiction), Murdoch admits: "For better or for worse, our company is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values."

Though, there are some aspects of the company he would surely rather forget than admit them as being part of his character and values.

Former newspaper News of the World was also previously part of News Corp until the phone hacking scandal came to light in 2009. July that year saw The Guardian expose journalists from the tabloid as illegally tapping people’s phones in order to pursue stories.

This was a particularly dark period in Murdoch’s career, and he announced the closure of the newspaper on 7th July 2011.  

John Ilhan

John Ilhan, from whose nickname his company Crazy John's derived its nickname, sold telephones for $1 while his incredulous competitors were charging $20. He even threw in free accessories or invitations to barbecues.

Turkish-born Ilhan was not as crazy as people thought, though, becoming the owner of the largest privately owned mobile phone company in Australia. By 2003, Ilhan was worth $300m and the richest Australian entrepreneur under 40.

Unfortunately, he didn't live much longer, dying of a heart attack just two years later. However, in his short life the Australian Muslim left a retail legacy that still endures.

Originally named Mobileworld Communications, the first Crazy John's store opened when Ilhan was just 26. His description of the early years goes some way to explain why he had a heart attack at such a young age.

"The first five years of my business life were a blur," he admitted. "I spent all day, all night in the shop worrying about every cent. I used to sleep in the store on the floor."

In the early days, Ilhan didn't have enough money to stock many phones at once. Instead his customers would order from brochures while he ran into town to buy the model from his suppliers.

Steadily, the savvy salesman grew his business. "Once I built up a name, people trusted that I knew what I was talking about and that I wouldn't bamboozle them," he recounted.

The retailer now has more than 120 stores and 600 employees in Australia but it isn't Ilhan's only legacy. He was also something of a philanthropist, founding the IIhan Food Allergy Foundation, a charity which promotes research into anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction to certain foods).

Richard Farleigh

Richard Farleigh, who British audiences will recognise from their Dragon's Den, succeeded in business despite a deprived childhood. His father was an aggressive alcoholic and so Richard and his siblings were sent to foster homes.

Having been diagnosed as 'backward' at the age of five, Farleigh went on to be a chess master and maths prodigy at school and won a scholarship to study economics at university, graduating with a first-class degree.

Now, the private investor is a member of the Business Review Weekly Rich 200 list, a breakdown of the 200 wealthiest Australians.

At 23, the shy graduate accepted a job from leading Australian investment bank, Bankers Trust Australia and quickly became the bank's biggest single earner.

By 1993 he was earning a seven-figure salary and was headhunted for an international hedge fund based in Bermuda. Farleigh described his three years there as "trader's heaven", largely due to the island being a tax haven.

Farleigh then turned his hand to tech stocks and in the ensuing years he backed over 50 early-stage companies. By the time the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, Farleigh had been investing in technology for five years and this unforeseen crash was a big knock to his prestige, not to mention his bank balance. Thankfully his previous savings provided him with an adequate financial buffer.

Of his experience on Dragon's Den Farleigh said he was looking to "hopefully uncover the next big thing". The Australian businessman proved to be the calmest, friendliest of the acerbic dragons and hardly had a harsh word for the people pitching for investment.

At the time of writing Farleigh still has equity in 20 companies at various stages of development. Asked what motivates him, Farleigh answered more like a bohemian than a hard-nosed trader: "You want to have that feeling in life where people are happy and you want to leave a trail of happiness behind you."

Being an entrepreneur, he says, "is about common sense, imagination and motivation. You have to focus on all three but sometimes common sense and imagination don't work together."

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