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Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer, AC (17 December 1937 – 26 December 2005), son of Sir Frank Packer, was an Australian media tycoon whose family company owned controlling interests in both the Nine television network and leading Australian publishing company Australian Consolidated Press (which were later merged to form Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL). Packer was famous for his abrasive personality, his wealth, his lavish gambling habits, his expansive business empire and his highly publicised clashes with the Australian Taxation Office and the Costigan Royal 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).

Business

Packer, through his family company Consolidated Press Holdings, was the major shareholder, with a 37% holding, in Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), which until Packer's death owned 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 Crown Casinomarker in Melbournemarker. The Nine Network and Australian Consolidated Press businesses have since been divested to PBL Media.

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 Sir Frank Packer had built up the media 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—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 1970s 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 telephone company 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 Bluemarker 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.

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-9marker 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 first and only airing on national television. (It has since aired in its entirety).

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

Outside Australia, Packer was best known for founding World Series Cricket. In 1977 the Nine Network 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 MCGmarker 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?" [26254]

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 his 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) 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.[26255] When questioned about this transaction at the Costigan Royal Commission Packer said ...I like cash. I have a squirrel mentality. I like to keep money in cash. It is by no means the most cash I ever had in my life

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 [26256];
  • in 2003 a licensed Glock 9 mm 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 [26257].


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", although Kerry subsequently 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 Schoolmarker through sport. Even throughout his adult life, Packer apparently found reading difficult, and is reported that he was dyslexic. 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." [26258].

Kerry Packer and his wife of 42 years, Roslyn, had two children, a daughter Gretel (born 1966), and a son James. At the time of Packer's death, he and Roslyn had two grandchildren, Francesca then 10, and Ben, then 7, from Gretel's first marriage to British financier Nick Barham [26259], and Gretel and her husband Shane Murray were expecting their first child together, William (born 2006). [26260] Gretel and Shane married just before Packer's death. [26261]

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.

The same report stated that he had once won $33 million (Australian) at the MGM Grand Casinomarker in Las Vegasmarker 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 journalists who sought to question his activities.

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 $120,000,000 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".

In the late 1990s it is reported that he walked into a major London casino and played £15 million on four roulette tables on his own and lost it all. He subsequently simply walked out of the casino with no regrets. This has been confirmed by casino owners in South East England.

Packer is known to have conducted extra-marital affairs with a number of women including the late model Carol Lopes—who reportedly committed suicide after being shunned by Packer—publisher and former ConPress employee Ita Buttrose, and Julie Trethowan, his long-time mistress and manager (from 1983) of the Packer-owned Sydney city health and fitness club, the Hyde Park Club. After his death, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that from about 1995, Packer transferred control of multi-million-dollar Sydney real estate holdings to Trethowan.

In June 2009 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Federal Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull—a former legal adviser and business associate of Packer—revealed to journalist Annabel Crabb that Packer had threatened to have him killed when they fell out over their 1991 attempt to take over the Fairfax newspaper group through their Tourang consortium. Mr Packer reportedly made the threat after Turnbull told Packer he was going to have him thrown out of the consortium by revealing Packer's intention to play an interventionist role in the newspaper group.

"He told me he'd kill me, yeah. I didn't think he was completely serious, but I didn't think he was entirely joking either. Look, he could be pretty scary. He did threaten to kill me and I said to him: 'Well, you'd better make sure that your assassin gets me first because, if he misses, you better know I won't miss you.' He could be a complete pig, you know. He could charm the birds out of the trees, but he could be a brute."


Failing health

Packer reportedly suffered as many as eight heart attack. 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 Ambulance Service of New South Wales 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, ABCmarker).

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) [26262], 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 30 December 2005 at the family's country retreat, Ellerstonmarker, near Sconemarker in the Hunter Valleymarker [26263].

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 Housemarker [26264].

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 criticised as it was funded by taxpayers, and Packer was famous for his tax minimisation.

Philanthropy

The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery within the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre of the University of South Australiamarker was endowed by the Packer family .

After Kerry Packer was resuscitated with a defibrillator in 1990 in Sydney from a heart attack, Packer donated a large sum to the New South Wales Ambulance Service in order to fit all of its ambulances with portable defibrillators. Defibrillators are now sometimes called Packer whackers after him.

Further reading



References

  1. Richard Neville: Hippie, Hippie, Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw ups – the Sixties (William Heinemann Australia, 1995. ISBN 0855615230)
  2. John Huxley, Costigan angry and sticking to his guns, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 2006
  3. Matthew Ricketson: "A man of means, mistresses and a few bordellos", The Age 26 July 2007
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. Phillip Coorey: "'Brute' Packer threatened to kill me: Turnbull", Sydney Morning Herald, 4 June 2009


See also



External links




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