Alan Bond: The likable chancer who lived by pushing the rules in business and sport
Published on June 8th, 2015
by Barry Pickthall
Alan Bond, arguably Australia’s best-known personality, has died at the age of 77 following complications during open-heart surgery. He came to fame by winning the America’s Cup from the New York YC at the fourth attempt in 1983, breaking the longest sporting run in history. Australians marked it by taking a National holiday. From then on, anything Bond touched appeared to turn to gold.
Stock in his Bond Corporation soared. He took over the Swan brewery, the Chilean telephone system and bought Australia’s Channel 9 TV station for $1 Billion.. He even bought a complete village in the UK and masterpieces purchased for record prices, decorated his corporate walls.
It was all bought on tick, but only one person – Tiny Rowland – saw this burgeoning mountain of debt for what it was … junk. Bond saw Rowland’s cash-rich Lonrho Corporation as yet another juicy takeover target. Tiny saw Bond as the unwelcome opportunist.
Peter de Savary, whose Victory ’83 was beaten by Australia II in the finals of the challenger trials, warned Bond not to take on Rowland. The last people to attempt to snatch Lonrho had been killed in a plane crash. Rowland countered Bond’s advances by sending a team of forensic accountants to Australia who stripped away the veneer of credibility to show the Bond Corporation to be bankrupt and trading illegally in 1989.
The first time reality struck Bond was on Hobart dock after competing in Sydney Hobart race with his maxi yacht Apollo. There he learned that his brewery empire had been put into receivership while he was at sea. The rest of the Bond Corporation fell shortly after and Bond later became the biggest bankrupt in Australian history with debts of $1.8 billion.
He served 3 prison sentences, but auditors failed to find his secret fortune. During the third court appearance, where he claimed loss of memory caused by the onset of dementia, prosecutors checked his hotel telephone records and found Bond had been making regular calls to Switzerland. The number turned out to be a public telephone box in Zurich rail station.
What he will be remembered for most, however, was beating the New York YC at their own game.
The New Yorkers had been waiving the America’s Cup rules to their own advantage for the previous 132 years, until Ben Lexcen designed Bond’s victorious Australia II with its remarkable wing keel. Club members were convinced that the idea had been conceived by Dutch aerospace scientists and not the Australian designer as the rules prescribed, but were unable to prove it. It was only much later that the truth prevailed, and by that time, the Cup had gone Down under.
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