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