Kerry Packer

From Academic Kids

Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer (born 17 December 1937) is an Australian publishing, media and gaming tycoon. In 2004 Business Review Weekly magazine estimated Packer's net worth at AU$6500 million ($6.5 billion), an increase of $1 billion on the previous year. Packer is currently believed to be Australia's richest man and one of the most influential.

Packer is the major shareholder in Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), which owns the Nine television network and Australian Consolidated Press, which produces many of Australia's top-selling magazines. He is involved in a number of other gambling and tourism ventures, notably the Crown Casino in Melbourne.

The Packer family has long been involved in media, Packer's grandfather was an influential publisher, his father, Sir Frank Packer was one of Australia's first media moguls, and his son, James Packer, is Executive Chairman of PBL. He was not originally destined for the role, but in the early 1970s Kerry took the place of the designated successor, his older brother, the late Clyde Packer, after Clyde fell out with their father, quit PBL and moved to America. he took over the running of PBL in 1974, on the death of his father.

Outside Australia, Packer is best known for founding World Series Cricket, which in 1977 led to a confrontation with the cricket authorities, as top players from several countries rushed to join him at the expense of their international sides. One of the leaders of the "rebellion" was England captain, Tony Greig. Packer's aim was to secure broadcasting rights for Australian cricket, and his ploy was largely successful.

Packer is widely respected in business circles, courted by politicians on both sides, and there is no doubt that he is one of the most astute businessmen of his time, despite the fact that he was a poor student. His primary schooling suffered greatly when he was stricken with a severe bout of polio myelitis at age eight, and he was confined to an iron lung for nine months. His father apparently thought little of his son's abilities, once cruelly describing him as " the family idiot", yet Kerry has steered PBL to heights far beyond anything his father or brother achieved. In 1987 he made a fortune at the expense of disgraced tycoon Alan Bond, cannily selling Bond the Nine Network at the record price of AU$1 billion in 1987, and then buying it back three years later for a mere AU$250 million, when Bond's empire was collapsing; Packer was then able to re-invest the proceeds in a 25% share in the Foxtel pay TV consortium.

However, the bellicose and emphatically conservative Packer has long been a bete noire for the political left. One early and unflattering appearance in the Sydney media (recounted by Richard Neville) was in 1962, when his father was trying to take over a small publishing concern, the Anglican Press, run by maverick journalist Francis James. Angered by James' refusal to sell, Sir Frank sent the burly Kerry (and several friends) over to the Anglican Press offices to "rough up" James and pressure him into selling. They forced their way in and began vandalising the premises, but according to Neville, James was able to barricade himself in his office and call his friend Rupert Murdoch, Packer's rival. Murdoch quickly despatched his own team of 'heavies', who saw Kerry and friends off the premises and ejected them unceremoniously onto the street. Not surprisingly, next day the Murdoch press had a field day with the news that the son of Austraia's biggest media tycoon had been caught brawling in the street.

Like Murdoch, Packer's critics see his ever-expanding cross-media holdings as a potential threat to media diversity and freedom of speech. He has also repeatedly come under fire for his companies' alleged involvement in tax minimisation schemes and for the extremely low amounts of company tax that his corporations are reported to have paid over the years. He has fought (and usually won) repeated battles with the Australian Taxation Office over his corporate taxes. The Ben Elton book Stark has a character, Stark, who is believed to be based on Packer. The story accused him of gaining his wealth through asset stripping.

Packer is known to sometimes take a direct interest in the editorial content of his papers, although he is far less interventionist than the notoriously hands-on Murdoch. Packer also occasionally interferes directly in the programming of his TV stations, and during the 1980s he famously called his Sydney station, TCN-9 and ordered that the Naughtiest Home Videos program hosted by Doug Mulray be taken off air, because he objected to the content.

Packer is a keen polo player, was a longtime chain smoker, and remains an avid gambler, fabled for his titanic wins and losses. In 1999 it was reported that a three-week losing streak at London casinos cost him almost AU$28 million dollars -- described at the time as the biggest reported gambling loss in British history. The same report stated that he had once won AU$33 million at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas and that he often won as much as AU$7 million each year during his annual holidays in the UK. Packer is also known for his sometimes volcanic temper, and for his perennial contempt for the media and for journalists.

Partly because of his apparent hard drinking and smoking, Packer's health has long been a problem. He has reportedly suffered eight heart attacks, and in 1990 he suffered a massive attack while playing polo in Sydney, and was clinically dead for six minutes before he could be revived. After recovering, Packer donated a large sum to the NSW Ambulance Service to pay for equipping all NSW ambulances with a portable defibrillator. He has also suffered from a chronic kidney condition for many years, and in 2000 he made headlines when his long-serving helicopter pilot, Nick Ross, donated one of his own kidneys to Packer for transplantation.

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