Kerry Stokes 101: A Titan of Australian Business
Zatrun Published at February 19, 2024

Kerry Stokes, whose birth name is John Patrick Alford, has etched his name as an Australian business magnate with diversified interests. His portfolio includes electronic and print media, property, mining, and construction equipment. However, he is most renowned as the chairman of the Seven Network, one of the largest broadcasting corporations in Australia. In this comprehensive exploration of his life and career, takes you on a journey through the remarkable story of Kerry Stokes, a true titan of Australian business.

Kerry Stokes: A Humble Beginning

Kerry Stokes was born as John Patrick Alford on September 13, 1940, in Melbourne, Victoria. His mother, Marie Jean Alford, was an unmarried woman, and Kerry was adopted by Matthew and Irene Stokes. He grew up in Camp Pell, a slum housing area, which shaped his early life significantly. Stokes faced adversity early on, dropping out of school at the age of 14.

In a candid interview with ABC in June 2000, he shared, “My background was very difficult, very hard, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I had lots of different occupations and obviously lots of different experiences. I had some time on the street, and sometimes, work was very difficult. Australia, in that period of time, wasn’t a place where you could easily go and get a job; it was difficult, and we went where there was work available.”

A Trailblazing Career

Kerry Stokes’ career began in an unconventional manner. He started by installing television antennas in Perth, Western Australia. This entry into the world of electronics marked the beginning of an extraordinary journey. During the 1960s and 1970s, Stokes ventured into property development, a field where he would find substantial success. He, alongside partners Jack Bendat and Kevin Merifield, developed a range of shopping centers in Perth and regional Western Australia. His foray into property laid the foundation for his future ventures.

His private company, Australian Capital Equity, serves as the cornerstone for Kerry Stokes’ diverse interests in various Australian and international businesses. This holding company spans property, construction, mining, and petroleum exploration.

In 1988, he made a strategic move by investing in the Caterpillar franchise in Western Australia, known as Wigmores Ltd. This venture, now called WesTrac, holds equipment dealer franchises in Western Australia, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory. The company employs nearly 4,000 people, with 500 apprentices in Australia.

Kerry Stokes’ influence in the business world extended to a joint venture formed between his National Hire Group and The Carlyle Group, leading to the acquisition of the equipment hire group Coates Hire. Notably, his interest in the pastoral industry led to the acquisition of the vast Napier Downs station in the Kimberley, which housed 20,000 head of Red Brahman cattle. His contribution to the Australian business landscape is nothing short of extraordinary.

A Media Magnate

Stokes’ journey in the media sector began with the development of the Golden West Network, a regional television network based in Bunbury, Western Australia. Over time, he extended his media interests by acquiring various TV stations and radio stations across the country. In 1979, he acquired Canberra’s local TV station Seven Canberra and later won the third commercial station license in Perth. These media assets played a pivotal role in shaping the Australian media landscape.

In 1996, Kerry Stokes secured a strategic 19% stake in the Seven Network, now holding approximately 43%, which includes commercial free-to-air television stations in major Australian cities. Additionally, he invested in Sky News Australia, making his media reach encompass 98% of Australians. Stokes also ventured into magazine publishing, with Pacific Magazines accounting for over 20% of all magazines sold in Australia.

Under his leadership, Seven Group Holdings further expanded its media empire. Stokes played a key role in forming the joint venture Seven Media Group in collaboration with KKR, creating a multifaceted media company. West Australian Newspapers Ltd. merged with Seven, forming Seven West Media in 2011. Kerry Stokes’ contributions to the media sector have been substantial, making him a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

A Multifaceted Personal Life

Kerry Stokes’ personal life is as diverse as his business ventures. He has been married four times, with each marriage marking a unique chapter in his life. His first marriage was to Dorothy “Dot” Ebert, with whom he has two children. His second marriage to Denise, his former receptionist, resulted in two sons. Denise eventually left the marriage, and Stokes found himself as a single father.

His third marriage was to Australian television actress Peta Toppano in 1992, lasting for three years. In 1996, he married his fourth and current wife, Christine Simpson (née Parker), a newsreader for rival station Channel 10 when they first met. Stokes is also a loving grandfather, cherishing the joys of family life.

Kerry Stokes’s life journey is nothing short of extraordinary. From challenging beginnings to achieving immense success in various industries, he stands as a symbol of tenacity and resilience. His influence in the media sector and contributions to Australian business make him a true titan in every sense of the word. delves deep into the life and achievements of Kerry Stokes AC, providing a comprehensive look into the incredible story of this Australian business icon.

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