Ranked at No. 45 on the 2016 BRW Rich 200 List, Con Makris, South Australia’s richest man and the only Greek billionaire in Australia, has based his company, Makris Group, in Adelaide for the past 45 years. He has blamed a dying state economy and small-town mentality for his decision to relocate his company’s headquarters to Queensland next year.
Fearing for SA’s economic future, the businessman has just set up a Brisbane head office and an office on the Gold Coast in a bid to capitalise on the cities’ astronomical growth.
In an interview with Neos Kosmos, the 69-year-old self-made billionaire from Ligourio, Argolis, talks about his decision to move his company’s headquarters to Queensland, his frustrations with the political system and the slow Adelaide property market, before revealing his future plans to conquer the eastern states.
You dropped a big bombshell last week, announcing that you are moving your company’s headquarters to Brisbane after being based in Adelaide for 45 years. What contributed to your decision?
We will maintain our Adelaide office, which has been the centre of operations for 45 years, but reduce its size, because the South Australian market is not exactly vibrant right now. The company will have an office in Adelaide, an office in the Gold Coast and one in Brisbane.
I would expand further if I was ‘allowed’ to do so, but it seems to me that whatever I do, I have to get permission from everyone. I am not allowed to do anything. My home is here, my company’s large property portfolio is here, I am doubling the size of my seaside penthouse apartment at Glenelg by purchasing another one next door, and I will continue to do my business here. Adelaide is a beautiful city to live in, but it’s a pity it has the mentality of a small town and I am a professional businessman. It will take 50 years to get another businessman like me in Adelaide. I am not a seller; if I bid and win then I sell. If I don’t get the bid, then I don’t sell. At the end of the day, I can do whatever I want with my own properties. I have businesses in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast.
What is it about our state that frustrates you so much? What do you feel South Australia is doing wrong and what should we do to see more growth and development coming our way?
Any businessman in Australia will tell you the same thing about Adelaide. Adelaide’s mentality is at fault here. People don’t go out enough, they don’t spend enough money and the population is small. It’s not a big city like Sydney and Melbourne and it’s not developing as quickly as the others. Brisbane and the Gold Coast within 15 to 20 years will be cities with probably five to six million people. That’s where you go to do business and where you can make money. I am really sorry but in Adelaide right now a businessman can’t make money.
There’s been a lot of speculation regarding the long-vacant Le Cornu site in North Adelaide, where a Sheraton Hotel has been announced as the centrepiece for a luxury residential, retail and hotel development which you haven’t developed yet. What’s your answer to those who are sceptical about whether it will go ahead?
I will do it when I am ready to do it. It is my money and I decide what to do with it. I will not build something to go broke. Building 200 apartments in North Adelaide right now is not viable. I am looking at how I will do it. This will be my last project in Adelaide and I will decide when the time is right to develop. Well, the time hasn’t come yet. The project will go ahead when I feel the time is right.
What can the state government do to facilitate more economic growth and activity in Adelaide and South Australia in general?
The government, irrespective of which government, Liberal or Labor, has to get the money from somewhere to pay for all these people but the big businesses aren’t here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Labor or Liberal (state) government. If the horse is dead you can’t bring it back to life quickly. I don’t think the treasurer of South Australia can help much. It needs to come from the federal government and it’s the treasurer who needs to step in. Firstly, the weekend penalty rates have to stop. Then, the government has to do something about unemployment and must stop breeding ‘bludgers’ who don’t work; instead they need to bring more skilled people in the state that are able and want to work. But they don’t do it. Everything takes so long to do and in the end nothing ever happens. Nothing will happen. Federal politicians must get together and work hard to revive Australia’s economy because I don’t think we are travelling very well. Their infighting every day is making me sick. I am worried about Australia’s readiness to withstand an economic shock. There’s been a stifling of entrepreneurship in Australia and people have been losing faith in politicians.
In 2011, you announced exciting plans for an estimated $10m Monaco-style marina extension at Holdfast Shores, Glenelg, servicing a high-speed, passenger-only ferry to Kangaroo Island, which remained in the pipeline and was recently abandoned. Why was that project dropped?
I was disappointed that the project didn’t get off the ground in the end, because I believe that it was going to bring tourists to Kangaroo Island and Adelaide. I needed support from the governments in order to improve the Kingscote wharf and extend the existing breakwater at Holdfast Shores to accommodate a new ferry, which would have been a great tourist attraction. It didn’t happen.
So, why did you choose Brisbane and the Gold Coast?
It is so simple. Business is business. We can see a big future up there. That’s where the big money is to be made, and as a businessman you go where there is growth. It is already happening and we want to be there on the ground to capitalise on that growth.
REACTIONS FROM THE POLITICAL WORLD
South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis told Neos Kosmos that the latest ABS figures show South Australia’s State Final Demand in South Australia grew more than the national average both last quarter and over the past 12 months. Specifically, household spending grew 2.8 per cent over the past year, also higher than the average.
“These figures clearly show SA is a strong investment destination, particularly for commercial property development. We are also abolishing stamp duty on business property transfers, with the first stage of the cuts already saving businesses more than $160 million,” said the treasurer.
State Opposition Leader Steven Marshall commented that the Makris relocation was the latest in an exodus not seen since the 1991 State Bank disaster and Makris was an extraordinarily successful South Australian who, unfortunately, now believes the best business opportunity is outside the state. He also told local press that Makris’ move is the logical consequence of this government’s failed economic plan − many successful people are looking further afield − interstate and overseas − and not in South Australia.