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January 19, 2009

The Rise and Rise of Andrew Forrest

Andrew Forrest is one of the Nouveau Riche set. Rising up from an early life as a jackaroo  on a cattle station in the rugged Pilbara of Australia, Forrest briefly became Australia's richest person in 2008.

Although Nouveau Riche  (newly rich) Forrest and his two business empires had nothing to do with technology, the internet or the environment.
Andrew Forrest made his money in mining. He took a rusty old industry, ruled by rusty old veterans, and injected it with a vitality, financial innovation and enthusiasm.
Andrew Forrest is the descendant of John Forrest. An Australian explorer who was also the first Premier of Western Australia, and part of the first Federal Government cabinet. But a famous name does not an easy life make.

His father, Don, sold the family cattle station in 1998 to clear the family debts. He recalls, in the Australian Broadcasting Commissions' television series Dynasties, the disappointment of his two sons that the family had been forced to sell the property that had been in the family for over a century.

Forrest enjoyed a brief tenure at Hartley Poynton stock broking firm before moving over to competitor Jacksons. And, in what was a sign of the style of the man, immediately phoned his former clients to explain the value of keeping their business with him in his new role.

His next high profile venture was Anaconda Nickel. A project I also worked on during the construction and then later during the operational stages.

Andrew had welded together a group of US Bondholders, to the tune of AUD$800 million, and several of the worlds largest mining corporations to fund the $1 billion (+) project.

The vision, as always, was astounding. Using new technology to harvest nickel deposits that heretofore had not been economically viable to mine. (Laterite Nickel) The project was stunning. A city of 5000 workers flying in and out of the lace regularly building a half mining / half chemical processing plant in the middle of the desert.

All through the life cycle of the project Andrew was singing its praises to all near and far. The share price boomed, then fell. Making many wealthy people and a few losers as well.

Construction delays, a reputed $1 billion lawsuit with Fleur Daniel the constructor and continuing operational problems seemed to sing his death warrant at Anaconda Nickel. Maybe the project was beyond him, maybe the vision was too large, or maybe it was just a power play by the other mining houses involved.

Whatever the reasons, and I do not presume to understand them, he was ultimately forced out in 2001 by major shareholder Anglo American. Today the company operates profitably under a different name.

Andrew Forrest, the beloved son of Western Australia, had built an empire in the desert, mad a fortune doing so, and lost it all in the space of three years.

Today he is the head of Fortescue Metals Group Limited. A self proclaimed third force in the Pilbara iron Ore industry, which provides the majority of iron ore for steel production globally.

it is his company, he built it up from debt funding and from purchasing a raft of tenements throughout the Pilbara region. Once again he has made money where many thought there was none. Once again he has emerged to drive a share price through the roof, tackling all manner of issues from natural disasters through to the current economic downturn.

And once again the Australian media is watching him exceptionally closely as he strides again on the world stage.

I have always found Andrew to be a remarkable man. A person who was able too build not one but two empires in areas where no one else dared to tread. Who was able to take the staid and dusty old mining industry and inject a measure of excitement and enthusiasm. And a man whose success has been marked by his own ability to market himself, his projects and his vision.

A truly remarkable story of a boy station hand (farm hand) to on of the Nouveau Riche   who has briefly sat at the top of Australia's wealthiest people - and I do not count him out as a contender for this spot again in the future.