Remembering Alan Bond – business giant, America’s Cup hero and convicted fraudster

Aland Bond, who grew from humble beginnings to become one of Australia’s wealthiest and controversial businessmen, has died at the age of 77.

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Mr Bond has inscribed the pages of Australia’s history books, both as the first non-American to seize the coveted America’s Cup sailing trophy and for his conviction over the country’s biggest-ever fraud.

One of Australia’s richest men during the 1980s, Alan Bond’s fall from grace began in 1992 when he declared bankruptcy. He was jailed in 1997 for a $1.2bn fraud involving his takeover of Bell Resources. He served three years before his release in 2000 after a successful High Court appeal against the length of his sentence. Upon his release, he told reporters he had no immediate plans for the future. “I’m just going to spend some time now and try and sort of get my life back together. It’s a little bit emotional to be quite frank. That’s about as much as I can say.”                                                                                                                   

Migrating with his family from England as a child, Alan Bond had left school at the age of 15, starting his career as a signwriter. While working, he undertook night studies in accountancy. 

‘Extremely ambitious, extremely confident’

One of his oldest friends, Denis Sowden told ABC’s Four Corners program in 1989 Mr Bond was extremely ambitious, and extremely confident, from a young age. “He was on the move, you know? He was a bloke who was always having a go. He had a different way of looking at things. He would want to do something, he’d be doing it. You’d wake up in the morning, find Alan was somewhere doing something. Other people would be saying, ‘Oh, wouldn’t be a bad idea.’ If Alan thought it was a good idea he did it. If it wasn’t a good idea, he found out later on.”

In 1983, after making a fortune as a property developer, Alan Bond became an Australian hero when his financial backing helped Australia II claim victory in the America’s Cup yacht race. It was the first time in 132 years that the New York Yacht club had lost the America’s Cup. 

Then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke noted the achievement with delight, telling reporters “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” 

But while he is remembered for one of Australia’s great sporting victories, in the business world he was less simple to characterise. 

‘I don’t think he worries at night’

Speaking to ABC journalist Paul Barry in 1989, merchant banker Mark Burrows described Alan Bond as a driven man with the ability to compartmentalise his life. “I think he goes to sleep at night. That would be my impression. I can’t say that from any personal experience but I don’t think he worries at night. I think he has that great capacity to turn off. I mean if he didn’t, if he was like 99 per cent of us, he wouldn’t be here, would he? So he is someone who I think probably one of his strengths is that he can actually see himself in a reasonable perspective.” 

Alan Bond’s personal life was just as mercurial as his professional life. 

As a child he’d had rheumatic fever, which had led to surgery to replace a valve in his heart in 1992. It was the same year he and Eileen Hughes divorced after a 37-year marriage. He had been 17 years old in 1955 when they married, and the union had produced four children. 

In 1995 he married theatre producer Diana Bliss. 

While in jail in 1997 for his involvement in the takeover of Bell Resources, Alan Bond was stripped of his Officer of the Order of Australia honour awarded in 1984 after winning the America’s Cup. 

His daughter Susanne was found dead aged 41 in 2000 after a prescription drug overdose, while second wife Diana Bliss took her own life in 2012.

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