Frank Lowy – Refugee to Multi-Billionaire

I continue to be fascinated with people who have achieved success in their lives, reasoning that there are always lessons to learn and inspiration to glean from studying their lives. One such person I have followed with great interest is Mr Frank Lowy.

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Ever since the very first publication of the Australian Rich 200 list in 1983, Frank Lowy has appeared among its members. In recent years his net wealth is estimated as in excess of $8 Billion AUD, which is enough to place him 3rd on the list of wealthiest Australians of 2016, behind Harry Triguboff and the Pratt Family.

Frank Lowy was born in Czechoslovakia, living in Hungary during World War II. He survived the Holocaust in which his father perished, making his way to Israel, fighting in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. He arrived in Australia in 1952 with his family, trying his hand in the small goods delivery business. When he met fellow immigrant with John Saunders in 1953 things changed – they went in to business together in a delicatessen. They co-founded the Westfield Development Corporation and began to build a shopping centre in Sydney’s Blacktown. They continued building shopping centres, taking the business public in 1960. In 1977 they set up in the USA to build malls, changing the name of the company to the Westfield Group. Saunders left the group in 1987, while Lowy continued to expand in New Zealand in the 1990’s and the UK in the 2000’s.

I have visited many of Mr Lowy’s shopping centres around the world and they look every bit as impressive as the ones we have back at home. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Westfield – I recall a number of corporate near-death experiences, especially during the 1980’s, as the commercial property market & availability of finance changed. The most recent was in 2009, when Mr Lowy’s wealth dipped from $6BN to just $4BN. That doesn’t sound too bad to still have $4BN, but relatively speaking that was a loss of over 30% of his wealth in a year.

Even though his fortune has waxed and waned over the decades, it has continued to grow over the long term. If you had been fortunate enough to invest $1,000 in to the original float of Westfield in 1960, and re-invested all of your dividends, your shares would be worth in excess of $150 million. So there is more to real estate wealth than just buying houses – clearly shopping centres can be incredibly profitable.

At 85 years of age. Mr Lowy still remains active in the global Westfield shopping centre business he co-founded. His sons have chief executive positions which has enabled him to embark on a quite incredible “second” business career, based not on money but personal interest. In the last decade he has reformed an insolvent Soccer Australia in to a formidable profitable organisation that has seen huge growth and success. He has formed The Lowy Institute, Australia’s first foreign policy think tank. When his son was diagnosed with an incurable eye disease Mr Lowy set up an international foundation to combat the disease. Mr Lowy’s philanthropic largesse was evidenced by Philanthropy Australia, who nominated him Australia’s leading philanthropist in 2002, with $10M in donations. He has since given tens of millions to cancer and cardiac research. He has been appointed to the board of the Reserve bank in 1995, 2000, 2003 and finishing his term in 2005.  A pilgrimage back to Europe in 2013, to attend the March of the Living, honoured the memory of his father. He recently stepped down as Chairman of the Scentre Group, a position he had held for over 55 years.

Mr Lowy, like many of his compatriots arrived in Australia not long after World War II, with very little to their names and proceeded to build incredible businesses and amass amazing fortunes. I cannot help but admire and wonder at the drive and passion of people like him who have achieved so much.

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