The master of networking (part 3 of 3)

Here is the final installment of the series of a chap who is arguably Australia’s most connected individual.

So what is David Gonski doing today?

Board memberships

Non Executive Director and Member of Remuneration Committee
Non-executive Director of Westfield Management Limited and Member of Remuneration Committee
Chairman and Chairman of Advisory Board
Chairman of the Board and Member of Remuneration Committee
Non-Executive Director, Member of Audit & Compliance Committee, Member of Nomination Committee and Member of Remuneration Committee
Non Executive Director of Westfield Management Ltd, Member of Audit & Compliance Committee, Member of Remuneration Committee and Member of Nomination Committee
Chairman of the Board, Chairman of Nominations Committee, Chairman of Related Party Committee, Member of Compensation Committee, Member of Audit & Risk Committee and Member of Compliance & Social Responsibility Committee
Former Independent Non-Executive Director
Former Non-Executive Director
Former Non Executive Director, Chairman of Audit Committee and Member of Nominating Committee
Independent Director, Member of Board Audit Committee and Member of Board Compensation & Industrial Relations Committee
Chairman and Chairman of Nomination & Remuneration Committee

Not-for-profit board involvement
  • Chancellor, University of New South Wales, from 2005.David Gonski is the first person to hold the position of Chancellor at UNSW who is also an alumnus of the University.
  • Chair, National e-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA)
  • Chair, Sydney Theatre Company, from February 2010
  • Ambassador, Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (

Previous positions held include:

There is no doubt about it David Gonski is one busy and connected chap!
See you next time.
James E

The master of networking (part 2 of 3)

We continue the background story of David Gonski …

Santow was Gonski’s first mentor, inviting him to become a summer clerk at law firm Freehills, where Santow was a senior partner. Gonski became a solicitor at Freehills in 1977 and a partner at only 25.

Married to a South African, Kim Santow was a powerful figure in the South African networks of Australia in the 1980s, a time when highly qualified Jewish South African lawyers were populating major Australian law firms, most notably Freehills.

This influence of the South African legal community, once dubbed “the Springbucks”, has now spread into the wider business community, giving Gonski another network of support.

At Freehills, Gonski worked on mergers and acquisitions, advising such companies as Westfield Holdings, a client he brought to the firm along with Santow. Gonski became a Westfield director in 1985.

Media connections followed; he became friendly at Freehills with Richard Longes, who was advising Kerry Stokes on his media interests while Gonski himself was advising Kerry Packer on the privatisation of his Consolidated Press.

But for Gonski, the law was not enough. As Santow has noted, he enjoyed the financial side of law transactions more than the legal side, and quit Freehills in 1986 to establish, with Longes, the investment bank Wentworth Associates – the name inspired by the street where Gonski then lived, in Point Piper.

Westfield Holdings’ chairman Frank Lowy has said it was Gonski’s idea in 1986 to form a new capital-raising and investment vehicle, Westfield Capital Corporation, and Gonski became its managing director. WCC had stakes in ACI, Coles Myer, Bridge Oil and Northern Star, owner of the Ten Network.

Ten proved to be a disaster, leading to the wipe-out of WCC that lost $303 million in 1988-89. WCC’s foray into TV was damaging for Lowy’s reputation. He admitted it was the biggest mistake in Westfield’s 30-year history.

Since the bad old Ten days, Gonski has never been far from the top men in the media, among them Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, who asked him to advise the Tourang consortium when it bid for John Fairfax Holdings in 1991. Two years later, he became a director of Fairfax.

With those kinds of connections, one thing was missing: the glossy outside interests that Gonski labels, in financier speak, “the not-for-profits”.

These boards appear to have a revolving-door policy of mates. In 1991, when Gonski retired from the St Vincent’s Hospital board, for example, he was replaced by Kim Santow. Five years ago, Gonski replaced Frank Lowy as chairman of trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW, where Santow had also been a trustee.

His “not for profits” began in 1987, when Gonski became chairman of Film Australia, a natural progression from his Freehills’ days when he advised Joe Skrzynski, the former chief executive of the Australian Film Commission. Six years ago, Gonski conducted a review into Commonwealth assistance to the Australian film industry and came into the orbit of the Australia Council in 1999, when he became a member of the Federal Government’s inquiry into the major arts organisations of Australia – the Nugent Review. It was chaired by Dr Helen Nugent, formerly chairwoman of the Australia Council’s Major Organisations Fund and now deputy chairwoman of the Australia Council.

A year ago, the partners of Wentworth Associates – Gonski, Longes and Levy – sold their business to the South African financial services group, Investec, but Gonski says he is staying on indefinitely with the boutique firm as chairman. He has, however, just quit as chairman of another much larger investment bank, Morgan Stanley, but remained a consultant.

Tune into part 3 on Wednesday to read about DG is up to these days.

All my best,


The master of networking (part 1 of 3)

Taking a bit of a detour from our core topic I’d like to explore an area that all professional advisers need to be better at doing – networking.

I personally don’t like the term networking. I much prefer something like “building and investing in relationships.”

There is a chap who is a master of building & investing in relationships. Chances are you have heard his name but don’t know much about him. Here is an article that was originally published by The Age newspaper way back in April 2002. It tells the back story of perhaps Australia’s most connected individual, David Gonski.

David Gonski is the “can-do” man of Australia. Want a new director for your board? Gonski can do. Want a new chairman for your arts foundation? Gonski can do. Like the late Lord Goodman of London, and Felix Rohatyn of New York, Gonski is seen as the universal fixer, a lawyer who has made an art form of being almost invisible and yet everywhere, mates with all sides.

Of course, the new chairman of the Australia Council did not get to the centre of his web of influence by accident. Gonski has worked at it from his days at Sydney Grammar School.

His ride to the top has not been accident free, however. He suffered a serious business blow running Frank Lowy’s Westfield Capital Corporation in the 1980s, having to reinvent himself as a hotshot corporate consultant after the company lost millions investing in the Ten Network.

Gonski, 48, speaks financier jargon. He says his new job as chairman of the arts funding body, the Australia Council is “do-able”, a phrase that first emerged from the mouths of junk bond dealers in California in the late 1980s.

For Gonski, it’s also “do-able” to be the chairman of investment advisory firm, Investec Wentworth, and Coca- Cola Amatil; to be a director of John Fairfax Holdings, Westfield Holdings, and the ANZ Banking Group; to be chairman of the National Institute of Dramatic Art; and president of the board of trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW. And to take on the Australia Council job that proved too much for his predecessor.

A search of his name in the database of the Australian Securities & Investments Commission reveals 29 pages of companies of which he is, or has been, a director or shareholder.

The Gonski circuit of influence began with his well-connected parents, Polish neurosurgeon Dr Alexander Gonski, and South African Helene Blume, a relationship counsellor who is still in practice and has written a book on grandparenting. With his siblings, Lisa, and twin brothers, Steve and Peter, David Gonski migrated from Cape Town to Australia with his parents in 1961, when he was seven.

David Gonski is married to a doctor, Boston-born dermatologist Orli Wargon. His brother, Peter, is also a doctor, specialising in aged care.

David Gonski was a champion debater at the Sydney power network-ers’ school, Sydney Grammar, where he is now a trustee. Instead of the usual next step for a Grammar boy – that is, the University of Sydney – Gonski chose the new law faculty at the University of New South Wales. His former colleague, Justice Kim Santow of the NSW Supreme Court, once told me: “He was one of the first of the UNSW law/commerce graduates. They were quite a different breed in training from those who came from Sydney University. They were numerate, understood balance sheets, had a capacity to apply the law in a commercial context. People in those law classes were asked ‘what if . . .?’ “

See you next post for part 2 of the David Gonski story.

All my best,

James E