Eight Bells: Bob Oatley

Published on January 10th, 2016

Australian businessman, winemaker and yachtsman Bob Oatley AO has died of illness, aged 87. Oatley, owner of the 100-foot Wild Oats XI, died Sunday morning, January 10.

Wild Oates XI won the iconic Sydney-to-Hobart race for the eighth time in 10 years in 2014, but tragically had to pull out of the Boxing Day race due to damage to the mainsail caused by bad weather.

Forbes magazine last year estimated his net worth to be $910 million, while he was listed at number 49 on last year’s BRW Rich List, with an estimated wealth of $1 billion.

While yachting is where he made his name, it was in wine that Oatley made his fortune, via the Rosemount Estates wine company. The multi-millionaire entrepreneur founded Rosemount Estate winery in 1969 and expanded it as a private company over three decades.

Rosemount went global, becoming the second-biggest selling Australian wine brand in the US and Australia’s largest family owned winery. From its meagre Hunter Valley beginnings, the estate fetched an extraordinary $1.4 billion in 2001 when Oatley sold it to Treasury Wine Estates.

Two years later the Oatley family bought Hamilton Island for $200 million, pouring large amounts of money into re-developing the Whitsunday resort into a world-renowned luxury island destination.

Oatley’s two passions were wine and sailing. He pursued his interest in sailing as the owner of the highly successful Wild Oats yacht and through hosting an annual race week at Hamilton Island.

In 2006 the Oatley family returned to the wine business, opening Robert Oatley Vineyards which operated out of NSW and Western Australia, producing boutique brands including Wild Oats and the Robert Oatley signature series.

He also owned retirement homes and a clifftop villa in Sardinia, Italy.

Oatley was chief backer of Team Australia, which was the Challenger of Record for the 35th America’s Cup, entered under the flag of Hamilton Island Yacht Club. However, the team’s inability to negotiate suitable terms with defender Oracle Team USA led to their withdrawal in July 2014 from the event.

In 2014 Oatley was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to the Australian wine and tourism industries [and] to the sport of yacht racing.”

Oatley had been a long-time supporter of Australian Sailing Team, now a dominant force in Olympic competition. Last November, Yachting Australia honored Oatley with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to sailing.

Oatley made his first fortune in the 1950s and 60s trading coffee and cocoa beans from Papua New Guinea. His convict ancestor, James Oatley, was Australia’s first clockmaker, according to Forbes magazine.

Oatley is survived by his wife Valerie and three children Sandy, Ian and Ros.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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