John Elliott obituary: Carlton businessman and chairman has already been touted as future Australian Prime Minister | australian politics


John Elliott’s life was a roller coaster of business, sport and politics.

The larger-than-life figure, who many liberals have portrayed as a future Australian Prime Minister, built and lost a powerful business empire and led Carlton Football Club through good and bad times.

The deep, aggressive voice chain smoker might be offensive, at least to those of a politically correct disposition.

In the late 1980s, as Federal Chairman of the Liberal Party and patron of Elders IXL, Elliott was one of the most prominent and watched figures in Australian public life.

John Dorman Elliott, who died Thursday at the age of 79, was born in Melbourne on October 3, 1941 and educated at Carey Baptist High School and the University of Melbourne where he earned an Honors Bachelor of Commerce degree. He then completed an MBA.

John Elliott welcomes Denis Pagan as Carlton coach in 2003. Photograph: Julian Smith / AAP

After a short period as a BHP cadet, he joined the international consulting firm McKinsey for six years, which he said was the best learning experience a young man could have.

Since his teenage years, he wanted to start a business. He spent nine months looking for the right vehicle – an under-managed business with long assets.

He eventually opted for a Tasmanian jam factory, Henry Jones IXL, even though it was a purchase twice as large as he had anticipated. He raised around $ 30 million, much of it from Melbourne-based companies, to close the deal in 1973.

Elliott has staged a series of acquisitions spanning more than a decade, including a reverse takeover of large stock agency and resort firm Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort.

Elliott acted as a “white knight” to thwart a Bell Group raid by Robert Holmes in Court. Thus Elders IXL was formed.

Even greater expansion took place in 1983 with the takeover of beer giant Fosters Carlton and United Breweries. This time it was Ron Brierley, a New Zealand corporate raider, who was frustrated with Elliott and his ability to raise huge sums of money quickly.

Elders IXL continued to grow, in mining and the stock market.

In 1985, Elliott launched a takeover bid for British brewing giant Allied-Lyons. This failed, but soon after Elders acquired England’s sixth-largest brewery, Courage, for $ 2.1 billion. This gave him control of 5,000 pubs which naturally began to serve Fosters.

Elliott brazenly tried to employ Denis, the husband of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as a consultant.

“But she wouldn’t let him be a paid consultant, which was bad luck, because I thought the pillow talk might help,” Elliott said in an ABC TV interview.

Elliott then crossed swords again with Robert Holmes in Court, this time over the Bell Group’s hostile bid for BHP. This caused Elders IXL and the mining giant to hold significant capital in each other.

At the same time, Elliott became a major figure in the VFL / AFL, through his presidency of Carlton, and a leading player in the organizational wing of the Liberal Party, as federal treasurer from 1985-87 and then as federal president. Unlike most party leaders, who tend to operate behind the scenes, he continued to make widely publicized speeches and stray into politics.

This was at a time when the John Howard-Andrew Peacock rivalry was at its height and many party members, especially the Victorians, viewed the successful and confident Elliott as their savior.

Elliott targeted the Victorian federal seat of Higgins, a safe Liberal seat he believed he could win in a by-election.

But his board gave him six months to decide between business and politics and with Roger Shipton, MP for Higgins refusing to budge, Elliott’s ambitions came to naught.

John Elliott and Australian football legend Lou Richards share a joke at the launch of Big Jack: My Sporting Life, which recounted Elliott's two decades as chairman of Carlton.
John Elliott and Australian football legend Lou Richards share a joke at the launch of Big Jack: My Sporting Life, which recounted Elliott’s two decades as chairman of Carlton. Photograph: Julian Smith / AAP

Starting around 1990, Elliott – like other business shooting stars in the 1980s – began to fall to earth.

The root cause was Harlin Holdings Group, a private investment firm owned primarily by Elders executives and run by Elliott, which began to buy out the company to protect it from takeovers but ended up with a much larger stake. larger than expected and $ 2.8 billion in debt.

Elliott, who had been forced to sell non-core assets, was replaced as chief executive in 1990 – the year he reported a loss of $ 1.3 billion that was the largest in the era in the history of Australian business.

The following year he changed his name to Fosters Brewing and Elliott was replaced as chairman, although he remained on the board until 1992.

The National Crime Authority has launched a lengthy investigation into foreign exchange trading. When that ultimately came to nothing, Elliott launched an unsuccessful claim for damages.

Elliott got into rice milling through Water Wheel Holdings, which collapsed in 2000.

In 2003, the Supreme Court of Victoria ordered him to pay compensation of $ 1.4 million after finding that he had allowed the company to negotiate when it was insolvent.

In 2005, Elliott filed for bankruptcy. His Toorak mansion was already gone – sold for around $ 11 million. And much of what was there, like English oak furniture and 17th-century silver, had been auctioned off.

His nearly two-decade-long presidency of Carlton ended in 2002, a period in which the club won both the flags and the wooden spoon. After leaving, Carlton was fined nearly $ 1 million and lost draft picks for breaking the AFL salary cap. Despite his fall, Elliott remained without apologizing.

He blamed the then Labor government for the NCA investigation and said the judge’s ruling in the Water Wheel case was “very bad”.

He argued that the salary cap and draft, which put Carlton in conflict, were themselves illegal and the club should have sued the AFL.

Elliott said the lawsuits cost him $ 11 million and his two wives cost about the same.

After coming out of bankruptcy, Elliott began trading in commodities and business consulting, joined the professional speaker circuit, and created his website The John Elliott Report.

Elliott was the father of four children – Tom, Caroline, Edward and Alexandra.


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