Peter Holmes a Court

Peter Holmes a Court

Entrepreneur, head of White Bull Holdings, chair The Passionate Group and Humanitarian

Peter Holmes a Court, Russell Crowe and Danielle Spencer


South Sydney Rabbitohs

South Side Story

The Passionate Group


His father's son?

(Credit: NineMSN Business Sunday)
Sunday, March 12, 2006
"You've got to be frank about this. You can buy and sell and do this because you never made that money, you got it off your daddy."

Peter Holmes a Court is a former theatre producer, cattleman and now, with his friend Russell Crowe, he's looking to buy the South Sydney Rugby League Club amid opposition that has led to death threats. Holmes a Court is the son of the late Robert Holmes a Court, one of the country's most famous and successful businessmen and many are wondering if he can match his father's entrepreneurial skill and flair. Ali Moore was given rare access into the private world of Holmes a Court for an in-depth profile.

PETER HOLMES A COURT: While my father was still laying in the hospital room that they took his body to, people approached me to say that it was now up to me. I'm very fortunate that my mother was strong and that she said it need not be that way, keep doing what you're doing, finish your education, and that you don't need to feel that pressure, and I emphasise it was while the body as they say was still warm.

ALI MOORE: The night Peter Holmes a Court's famous father died, his eldest son, at 21, chose to go his own way. What the great corporate raider had left behind was an empire, but no dynasty. Why did you walk so comprehensively away?

HOLMES A COURT: There is a misunderstanding about my father and the family business. That he was in some ways setting out to create a family business. My father never talked about a family business, a dynasty. He talked about creating opportunities for his kids.

MOORE: At 37, Peter Holmes a Court is no different. He's not building a dynasty. But at an age when his father had started to deal, he is trying to buy a football team.

MOORE: His target: South Sydney, the National Rugby League's most beleaguered member.

HOLMES A COURT: The average win is one in four. Twenty five percent of the times the team has run out it's won.

MOORE: He trains with their Juniors,

HOLMES A COURT: Thank you very much for coming to this event.

MOORE: And gives power point presentations to their fans.

HOLMES A COURT: We are seen as the club of the outsiders, we don't have the support of the NRL. We need to change the world's perception of this club.

MOORE: What does he have in common with people who have lived and breathed Souths all their life?

ANTHONY KARAZERIS, South Sydney member: He makes no bones about not being Souths born and bred but, I mean, that's not the point here. We've had people on board who are Souths born and bred and haven't really produced what we would like to see.

HOLMES A COURT: I'm not going to be the most passionate person, I'm not going to be the most fanatical and know all the statistics. With my partner we reckon we can make it a winning club again, simple as that.

MOORE: His partner is no less than a Hollywood star. Russell Crowe introduced him to league.

RUSSELL CROWE: We have books that don't balance and we've got no way in the future, it would seem from this point, of attracting more money unless we change our culture.

MOORE: Together they've (Crowe & Holmes a Court) put three million dollars on the table for a controlling stake in the club, and they're working hard to sell their deal.

HOLMES A COURT: I have said, under the circumstances, I would like to be Chairman of this board and assist the management.

CROWE: I wouldn't be doing this with Peter unless he's prepared to take that level of responsibility. You know, for a guy that grew up with a lot of privileges and access to money, I've had to give him lessons in present buying, and much to the pleasure of his wife I'll tell you that, Peter's very careful with money and that's what we need in this club. In terms of how we help the administration of this club, is by being very aggressive when it comes to gathering money and being very careful when it comes to spending money

MOORE: Crowe met Holmes a Court in America, at the Oscars. The actor and the businessman, Holmes a Court was a long way from Australia, and had been for a long time.

HOLMES A COURT: I've said I fled.

MOORE: Is that a bit dramatic?

HOLMES A COURT: Yeah but it addresses the fact that I was running away.

MOORE: Running away to the US, after years as a boarder at Geelong Grammar.

HOLMES A COURT: During the eighties when I was at school in Victoria, my father was doing his best to torture, broadly, Victorian based companies whose management needed a shake-up. Sons and relatives of those people sent their kids to the school that I went to. I think it also is tough when any kid has a high profile father, when you stick out in Australia. I think its tough, its tough for kids.

MOORE: Holmes a Court didn't come back for well over a decade. It was the one time, where briefly, in New York and London, he worked for his father.

HOLMES A COURT: It was my job to be some sort of junior analyst, with the emphasis on being junior, in the business over the time I spent working for him in New York and in London.

MOORE: And as that time was coming to an end, was there any pressure to join him at home, in business?

HOLMES A COURT: There was never any pressure from either of my parents to come home and join my father.

MOORE: So the elder son stayed in America and eventually found success. His theatre company "Back Row Productions" secured the global rights for "Tap Dogs".

HOLMES A COURT: I've often said I learned almost every lesson I've learned either producing small shows at the Edinburgh Festival or producing "Tap Dogs" in all the different cities. Each week is a new business, each week the box office starts from zero.

MOORE: In 2000, he sold up and came home, not to Perth but to Sydney. And it was then he cut all ties with his family's business. Selling his stake in Heytesbury Holdings for a reported 30 million dollars.

ALAN NEWMAN: I think he's a heck of a lot like this father.

MOORE: Alan Newman, the former boss of the diversified industrial Futuris, was once Robert Holmes a Court's right hand man. Newman fell out with the father over corporate strategy, but stayed close to the son.

NEWMAN: There had been a lot of stress I think clearly in the family structure. I don't think Peter could see himself being able to run the company the way he would want to run it, by himself, without that stress in the structure being retained. In other words you couldn't get the freedom to do it.

HOLMES A COURT: I just saw my desire to pursue my opportunities differently.

MOORE: Were there stresses in the family structure — if I can put it the same way he does?

HOLMES A COURT: It has been referred to as stresses in the family structure. Can I assure you that having your old man drop dead in the middle of the night is bloody stressful and having a business that has to be run and managed with kids all over the world, two kids in America, one in England and one in Australia is bloody stressful.

MOORE: Alan Newman's Futuris is owned by the Australian Agricultural Company, and it was there Peter Holmes a Court went to try to make his mark as an Australian CEO.

NEWMAN: He's got qualities that his father in my mind, difficult to say, probably didn't have. The engagement of people, the relaxation with people, the ability to bring out the best in people as opposed to driven by fear or intellect. He's got it in just talking quietly to them or bringing them through the process. He's a natural leader.

MOORE: Holmes a Court lasted just over three years at the Australian Agricultural Company, and took it public.

NEWMAN: He brought them into the 20th century like a breath of fresh air.

MOORE: But not everybody liked his style. Off the record, some are scathing. Others are more considered, but still critical. (They say) Holmes a Court was good at drinking the first half of the champagne bottle, extracting the fizz, but the detail and hard yards were not his forte.

HOLMES A COURT: That's always for other people to comment on, I do my thing, I try to make it clear that I speak from the heart, I work on what I believe in and if that upsets people I move on. I'm not going to let their concerns about me bother me, I think the record speaks for itself.

MOORE: And so Holmes a Court moved on. South Sydney is now his biggest challenge. And it's a challenge that's turned nasty.

CRITIC: People have got their heads up their ass they really have. You've got to be frank about this. You can buy and sell and do this because you never made that money, you got it off your daddy, also the king of hostile takeovers.

MOORE: The diehards don't want to sell, and Holmes a Court says he's received threats. There are clear supporters, the question is, is there enough of them?

VOX POPS: I'm all for it, all for it.

Very impressed with him, most impressed with him.

Fantastic guy, I'm not a voting member but if I were I'd vote for it, we've got a table full of people here going to vote for it.

MOORE: 75 percent is what you need, in any corporate vote 75 percent would be tough.

HOLMES A COURT: Yeah it's tough

MOORE: It's a big ask.

HOLMES A COURT: We make no bones about the fact what we're proposing is radical, we don't shy away from that, but this business has got to change fundamentally if its going to be a winning team again.

MOORE: Holmes a Court has another project in Sydney, again with Russell Crowe.

HOLMES A COURT: Russell said to me, 'do you know that building in East Sydney?' And I said '98 Riley Street?' And we'd both looked at it separately.

MOORE: Now they plan to turn this, into this. Recording studios and editing suites.

HOLMES A COURT: Offices, offices, offices. Editing suites, editing suites, editing suites.

MOORE: And how much is all of this going to cost?

HOLMES A COURT: Relatively modest actually.

MOORE: What's modest for a Holmes a Court, three million, five million, one million?

HOLMES A COURT: What's modest is what's sensible for this area and sensible for the project and you won't get me to answer it any better than that.

MOORE: It's typical Holmes a Court. He tells you exactly what he wants to and gives nothing more away. For a man who cultivates the public image, he chooses what he shares carefully.

MOORE: Family though is an obvious passion, with two sets of twins under six.

HOLMES A COURT: Spending time with the family down here is very special time.

MOORE: Are you trying to give your kids something you didn't get?

HOLMES A COURT: I never want to make my childhood out to be rough in any way. I had a fantastic childhood, I didn't want for anything, I was very, very fortunate. Maybe a bit more of their old man maybe that's a good thing.

MOORE: Right now he says he has plenty on his professional plate. He's taking his foot off the peddle while his wife Divonne pursues her career.

DIVIONNE HOLMES A COURT: He does like to say that he's supporting me. I think it does make a difference if two people in a family are in a full time, completely preoccupying activity.

MOORE: But he's not a house husband is he?

DIVIONNE HOLMES A COURT: No I wouldn't call him a house husband. Let's say they've got a baby they can just go to babies.

MOORE: Divonne Holmes a Court is working on a national parenting website, a government project about to go live. But her husband is not really taking a back seat. Peter Holmes a Court's profile is higher than ever. His success rate yet to be determined.

MOORE: Is being Robert Holmes a Court's son still a burden to you?

HOLMES A COURT: No it's not a burden. It has good bits and bad bits. I get smacked on the head because of who he was, people's misconceptions etc, but also get some other opportunities, of course I do. But also don't think about it.



The Passionate Group

Media Man Australia

Peter Holmes a Court appeared on SBS Insight 'Playing The Pokies' - 30th April 2008

Media Man Australia public thank you to Peter, Souths and the team for your support

Media Man Australia does not represent Peter Holmes a Court