Business

Nathan Tinkler falls to the true builders

The king is dead, long live the king. Well, kings.

Nathan Tinkler’s spectacular wealth wipeout has been crystallised by the release of the first Rich List since things started to really go pear-shaped for him about two months ago.

And the raw numbers are ugly. His fortune, put at $1.13 billion on the BRW’s Young Rich List in 2011 has plunged to $400 million because of a fall in the value of his stake in Whitehaven Coal -- a company he failed to take over in a $5 billion deal -- and his rising debt levels.

Tinkler’s valuation, which once included a myriad of privately-held assets in addition to his stakes in public companies, has now become pretty simple. He’s got a 21% stake in Whitehaven Coal -- with a gross value of about $630 million -- and a shipload of debt which BRW has taken a good stab at quantifying. The rest -- the horses, the sporting teams, the property -- isn’t worth worrying about.

Exactly what Tinkler will do next remains to be seen -- a $400 million fortune should give him a bit of wriggle room. But, in the short term, there are creditors that need placating, including Mirvac (owed $17 million over a property deal) and Blackwood Corporation (owed almost $30 million over a promised share sale).

Tinkler may take some solace that it has taken two people to depose him at the top of the Young Rich List, which tracks the fortunes of self-made individuals aged 40 and under.

Tinkler might technically be the richest youngster in Australia, but top spot on the list now belongs to technology entrepreneurs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar of software group Atlassian. They were jointly valued at $480 million.

As spectacular as Tinkler’s six-year rise from electrician to billionaire has been -- and to be clear, we’ve seen little like it in living memory -- Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar are business builders who created a global business in less than a decade.

Theirs is a story of the SME made good. The university mates founded the business in 2002 with a $10,000 credit card and started developing enterprise software that would eventually help them land clients such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Ikea and even Microsoft.

The company ranked fifth on the inaugural Smart 50 awards in 2007, after posting average annual revenue growth of 117% in the previous three years.

Today, the company employs 530 people around the world, has revenue of more than $100 million and is widely expected to be heading towards a sharemarket float, given it counts US tech investor Accel Partners amongst its shareholders -- and guys like Accel always want a handsome return eventually.

Atlassian is obviously an inspiration for any entrepreneur who has a dream of taking their idea from the bedroom to Silicon Valley.

But the ascension of Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar and the relegation of Nathan Tinkler is a reminder that there is more to the Australian economy -- and our rich lists -- than just digging stuff out of the ground.

Great ideas, built from the ground up and built to withstand the sort of economic shocks that Atlassian has seen, deserve to be celebrated.

*This piece was originally published by SmartCompany.


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