The four BBHO families battling Gina Rinehart and China for S.Kidman & Co.
The all Australian bidders BBHO carry the underdog status in the battle for Kidman, taking on Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart, and her Chinese joint venture partner Shanghai CRED who have bid $365 million for the 10 million hectares.
When cattleman Sterling Buntine landed in Darwin on Monday, after travelling to Canberra to make a $386 million bid for Australia’s largest landholder S.Kidman and Company, he turned the key in his semi trailer and headed for home – Alroy Downs – more than 1000 kilometres away.
His father Noel Buntine, for which the Buntine Highway in northern Australia is named, introduced the massive ‘road train’ vehicles that transport multiple carriages full of cattle across vast expanses.
But Buntine is not just a truckie.
He, like the other three family patriarchs involved in the Kidman bid – Malcolm Harris, Tom Brinkworth and Viv Oldfield – are tough, wealthy, hard working graziers, not afraid to get their hands dirty and always keen to do a deal.
They carry the underdog status in the battle for Kidman, taking on Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart, and her Chinese joint venture partner Shanghai CRED who have bid $365 million for the 10 million hectares.
Former MP Sophie Mirrabella is the political conduit and public relations person for Rinehart. The family syndicate, known as BBHO, have just hired GraCosway – which represented Dakang Farming, the Chinese group that bid for Kidman last year but was scuttled by the government.
It’s also no secret that Rinehart is good mates with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce while Malcolm Harris is a good mate of Bob Katter. Government approval of both bids is almost a given but the Foreign Investment Review Board still needs to sign off on the Chinese element.
However, none of the family syndicate are members of the exclusive Adelaide Club where members past and present have also been Kidman shareholders and board directors. The Kidman board has long been a part of the Adelaide establishment.
And its the Kidman board and shareholders who will really have the final say in this battle.
Ultimately however, the decision will likely come down to the price offered and the financial power of the bidder.
There have been those who doubted the families would ever bid. That they were not strong enough, not real enough.
‘You could not get a better four’
But Ken Warriner, one of Australia’s most respected cattlemen who was chief executive of the Consolidated Pastoral Company and a close confident of the late Kerry Packer, disagrees.
“If there were four blokes that could put something together like this to take Kidman you could not get a better four,” Mr Warriner says.
“Sterling is a tough operator and a hell of a hard worker and he knows how to make a dollar in the bush.”
“Malcolm Harris – there is no one more substantial in agriculture than him.”
“Tom Brinkworth – he has been very successful.”
And for Viv Oldfield, who has had horse racing interests with Warriner, there is also plenty of praise.
Yet there will be the dissenters.
Some will no doubt bring up Buntine’s association with the collapsed managed investment scheme company, the listed Great Southern.
The company paid Buntine and his brother-in-law, Great Southern’s general manager of cattle David McLeod, a $10.65 million commission to secure and purchase huge cattle stations during the boom years up to 2008.
There were also suggestions that the two were in a position to profit from the collapse. No evidence has ever been proffered for this claim.
Brushes with the law
For Brinkworth there will be those who bring up his brushes with the law. Brinkworth settled a case in which he was accused, along with his wife Pat, of animal cruelty by the RSPCA.
Brinkworth denied the allegations of willful neglect and said he was dealing with the worst drought in South Australia’s history.
His opportunistic property-buying might also be brought up. In 2010 Brinkworth snapped up 4450 hectares of land in South Australia’s wine-making region of Padthaway, from receivers of a forestry company SFM Australasia.
“We didn’t buy land for two years and that’s unusual for us because we would buy at least one or two properties every year,” he said at the time.
He pulled up the stumps on the timber plantation and converted it to grazing land for his fat lambs. The lamb price shot up and he profited nicely.
Concerns about the Kidman properties being broken up involve a great deal of sentimentality about a largely out-of-date strategy by the original Sir Sidney Kidman.
The current holding of 19 stations already looks very different to the 68 stations the company ran when Sir Sidney died in 1935. His chain of properties to the south was in part to mitigate against climatic conditions; but also a way to get cattle into where the population was: primarily Sydney and Melbourne. Now times have changed, the export market if bigger and growing, there is a live export market and China to feed.
Mr Buntine has also confirmed that the Kidman company will remain trading with each of the four bidding families owning shares in it and using it to brand and distribute their cattle. The properties will be divided up among the four families. But Buntine has ruled out any deliberate strategy to on-sell properties. “This is no Stanbroke split-up deal,” Mr Buntine said.
He refers to AMP selling its Stanbroke Pastoral Company in 2003 – a deal which saw Hungry Jack’s founder Jack Cowin, Swan Hill’s Menegazzo family and four Queensland grazing families snare the company for $490 million, in what was and still is the largest cattle station transaction in Australia’s history.
And while Buntine is open to working with Rinehart on any suggestions she may have for an arrangement, no one is holding their breath.
Ken Warriner says the two separate bids look very different and will probably remain that way.
After Kidman receive a formal legally binding offer from the families syndicate by post this week many expect Rinehart will probably respond again.
“I think Gina is a pretty formidable force,” Warriner says – and he knows how billionaires think.
But the four graziers are there for a fight.
On Brinkworth’s kitchen fridge there is a magnet that bears the Churchillian words: “Never, Never, Never Give Up.”
Read more: http://www.afr.com/business/agriculture/the-four-bbho-families-battling-gina-rinehart-and-china-for-skidman–co-20161024-gs99ki#ixzz4O37wRsCJ
The story Underdogs not fazed by battle with Rinehart for Kidman estate first appeared on Farm Online.