Australia’s Top 20 Richest People (and What We Can Learn)

Whether it’s the iron ore-laden trails of riches created by Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest, the meteoric rise of Canva’s millennial co-founder superstars, or the legendary wealth-building journeys of Westfield’s Lowy family and cardboard king Anthony Pratt, their stratospheric levels of success are inspirational yet often controversial.

Collectively worth over $176 billion, this is a curious look at the top 20 richest Australians – the visionaries, risk-takers and hard-nosed businesspeople behind some of the nation’s most recognizable corporate names and iconic companies that drive Australia’s economy.

The choice is yours as to what you take away from this list, some might be inspired and seek out their stories and tap into their knowledge, while others might be infuriated along the lines of what Oxfam presents. It’s up to you.

Oxfam recently compiled a report on three of Australia’s richest, coming up with an interesting tidbit

the richest Australians made an average of $1.5 million per hour, with the total wealth of the country’s billionaires increasing by over 70 per cent, or $120 billion.

Oxfam 2023

Oxfam make a case for the old saying that goes along the lines of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, a line that surely resonates with a large chunk of the populace but, there is probably a more nuanced view to be had. Again, each to their own, others may think along the lines of “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg”.

If you also wanted to know how many billionaires there are in Australia, according to the Australian Financial Review, there are 141 billionaires in Australia!

The List

Gina Rinehart

Net Worth: $37.41 billion
Mining magnate who inherited tenements from her father Lang Hancock. Built them into an iron ore empire as Chairman of Hancock Prospecting. One of the world’s richest women.

Andrew Forrest

Net Worth: $33.29 billion
Founded the Fortescue Metals Group iron ore company in 2003 after success as a stockbroker which led him to form Anaconda Nickel. His parent company today is Tattarang, which makes well-known investments in resources (Fortesque Mentals) and lesser-known investments in agriculture, renewable energy, consumer brands (RM Willams, Akubra etc.), health, and tech. He is reportedly also Australia’s biggest philanthropist donating $2B+ to causes like eradicating slavery.

Anthony Pratt

  Net Worth: $24.30 billion
Inherited packaging company Visy from father Richard Pratt. Rebuilt it into a global leader in recycling and sustainable packaging after near collapse.

Harry Triguboff

Net Worth: $23.80 billion
Born in Dalian China, and growing up in Tianjin, at that time a Russian community. He migrated to Australia in the 1960s and founded apartment developer Meriton in 1963, building it into the nation’s biggest residential builder.

Clive Palmer

Net Worth: $23.66 billion
Starting as a real estate agent on the Gold Coast, the seed of his success was the lease of a piece of land that would become one of Australia’s richest iron ore mines.

Mike Cannon-Brookes

 Net Worth: $19.01 billion
Co-founded software company Atlassian with Scott Farquhar in 2002. Their collaboration tools like Jira became vital for tech companies worldwide.

Scott Farquhar

 Net Worth: $18.16 billion
The other Atlassian co-founder who started the company with Mike Cannon-Brookes. Now focusing on environmental causes and investment.

Ivan Glasberg

Net Worth: $13.60 billion
South African born with Australian citizenship, he is reported as the second biggest shareholder of Glencore plc, a Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining company that is ranked tenth in the Fortune Global 500 list of the world’s largest companies.

Melanie Perkins

Net Worth: $13.18 billion (in partnership)
Canva co-founder and partner of Cliff Obrecht. Canva is one of Australia’s top start-up success stories and one of the world’s fast-growing online design services.

Cliff Obrecht

Net Worth: $13.18 billion (in partnership)
Canva co-founder and partner of Melanie Perkins. Canva is one of Australia’s top start-up success stories and one of the world’s fast-growing online design services.

Frank Lowy

 Net Worth: $8.84 billion
Escaped Nazi Europe as a refugee, started by running delicatessens. Founded shopping mall operator Westfield in 1959 which became a global retail giant before its 2018 sale. In 2018 Westfield Westfield Corp. was sold to a Franco-Dutch group.

Richard White

 Net Worth: $9.11 billion
Founder and CEO of WiseTech Global, the logistics software company that boomed during the pandemic shipping crisis.

Kerry Stokes

Net Worth: $7.45 billion
A self-made billionaire who is best known for his ownership of the 7 Network, he also has a large dealer network, Wes Trac the Caterpillar dealer, large pastoral holdings, energy, construction, and the Coates Hire Group.

Cameron Adams

Net Worth: $6.59 billion
Co-founded design platform Canva in 2013 with Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht after seeing a need for simple graphic design tools.

Alan Wilson

Net Worth: $6.51 billion
Wilson led the hardware store, Reece, that was founded in the 1920s, to become a publicly-listed Australian company and the country’s largest supplier of plumbing and bathroom supplies.

John Gandel

 Net Worth: $6.33 billion
Gandel inherited and grew the Sussan women’s clothing chain to later become a shopping mall magnate. The most famous of those malls is Chadstone in Melbourne.

Len Ainsworth

Net Worth: $5.22 billion
Founder of Aristocrat Leisure, one of the world’s largest gambling-machine companies, and Ainsworth Gaming Technology.

James Packer

Net Worth: $4.95 billion
The heir to the Packer media and gambling fortune, he has recently sold his stakes in Crown Resorts and other investments after restructuring the family empire. Let’s watch for what comes next.

 Hui Wing Mau

Net Worth: $4.9 billion
Hong Kong-based property developer who built the Shimao Group and has major developments in China and Australia.

Angela Bennett

Net Worth: $4.63 billion
Heir to the Wright Prospecting was founded by her father, Peter Wright, who had a partnership with Lang Hancock. Together they would net ongoing royalties from the iron ore mines of Rio Tinto. The heirs of each have been in legal battles ever since.

What Inspired this list?

I was pondering Australia’s direction and the modern fabric of a nation that sits in a confusing place of being a middle power nation between two great powers, the US and China while being economically dependent on one side and culturally & historically allied to the other.

There is little point in wasting time looking to Australian politics for an answer, it’s much more insightful to look at the current crop of Australia’s richest, and then look at the directions they are forging ahead.

Summary

The estimated combined net worth of the top 20 richest Australians is around $176.55 billion.

Employment Impact
While exact employment figures are difficult to determine, collectively these 20 wealthy individuals and their companies likely employ hundreds of thousands of people, if not over a million, in Australia and around the world through their business operations spanning mining, construction, retail, technology, logistics, aged care, and other industries.

Some key employment numbers:

  • Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting and Roy Hill mines employ over 5,000 people
  • Anthony Pratt’s Visy packaging employs over 6,000 in Australia alone
  • Westfield’s Australian malls employed over 100,000 before its sale
  • Atlassian has over 6,000 employees globally
  • TPG Telecom has over 5,600 employees
  • Gandel Group’s shopping centers employ tens of thousands

Impact on GDP
The business activities, investments, and spending of these 20 wealthiest Australians likely account for a very significant portion of the nation’s GDP, potentially well over 10%.

Key GDP contributors include:

  • Mining operations of Rinehart, Forrest, Fortescue, Hancock Prospecting
  • Retail operations of Gandel, Lew, Triguboff
  • Construction activities of Walker, Celestino, Multiplex
  • Technology products/services of Atlassian, TPG, Computershare
  • Manufacturing operations of Visy, Ampol, Jayco

Additionally, their investments, consumption spending, and philanthropic efforts indirectly support economic activity and employment across many sectors.

While precise figures are difficult to quantify, it’s clear that the business empires and economic footprint of Australia’s top 20 richest individuals represent a very significant contribution to national GDP, likely in the range of 15-25% based on the scale and scope of their operations and investments across the Australian economy.

On another note, Australia’s rich have always been great philanthropists, but there is a noticeable shift in that, from research and the arts to sustainable development and renewable energy.

The Take Away

Take away what you will. But I think you can that there is a massive shift in the foundation of Australia’s wealth production that is now well underway and it is setting, or could set, a new stage for Australia’s future. Agriculture is still at the core, mining is king but it’s getting tired, and SAAS and tech are the new realm.

A little like Taiwan, which created an economic powerhouse out of thin air by becoming the kingdom of semiconductors, what could Australia pull off similarly, and usher in a continuing century of prosperity that replaces the mining days of yore?

A Quantum computing leap that changes the basis for the new era of AI, or SAAS titans akin to the tech titans of the US?

Watch where the money goes. The simple rule of following the money to find the truth never fails.

References

Data for this list was compiled from Wikipedia, Forbes Billionaires, and the AFR’s Rich List.

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