It is a sultry Sunday evening in mid-February in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in the historic Art Deco Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. In an otherwise peaceful and hushed bar area frequented over the years by guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Charles De Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Anthony Pratt is singing Beatles songs to Gina Rinehart.
Pratt, as is his habit at many functions, breaks into the first few lines of Abbey Road’s Oh! Darling – “…believe me when I tell you I’ll never do you harm…” – while Rinehart beams in recognition.
Pratt has sung this one before, she explains as the pair sip rum, liqueur and lime Mai Tai cocktails, including at her birthday celebrations last year. He stops and declares that Rinehart is “the biggest star in Australian business”.
It may not be widely known, but Australia’s two wealthiest people, each a successful corporate figure in their own right, have become close friends, supporting each other’s business and philanthropic achievements. The executive chair of cardboard box maker and recycling giant Visy and Pratt Industries, and the chair of miner and agriculture giant Hancock Prospecting, have a few things in common. Both had fathers with larger-than-life personalities, and they share a strong work ethic and a competitive nature that has them relentlessly driving their respective businesses to greater heights.
Pratt is in Cambodia attending a function to celebrate the achievements of the Cambodian Children’s Fund that Rinehart supports, which has so far helped raise close to 2000 orphaned and disadvantaged girls out of poverty and fund their tertiary education by providing scholarships.
Rinehart, meanwhile, animatedly recalls Pratt’s famous $2 billion pledge, aboard USS Intrepid in New York in May 2017, to expand his cardboard box making and recycling empire, Pratt Industries, into the US Midwest. The mining magnate even captured the moment for her friend in a photo showing President Donald Trump leading a three-minute round of applause. Pratt had it framed and hung on the wall of his Melbourne office.
“I felt extremely proud, and every time he achieves something big I try to have a drink with him, or a coffee with him,” says Rinehart. “Sometimes it is not possible to see him as much as I like, but we have had some great times together. One of the things I value above all else is this journey we are travelling with so many remarkable people, and that is the fortune that so many find. That is a quote, and I added my bit: the fortune to find Anthony.”
‘Both are unabashed fans of US President Donald Trump. Pratt joined the President’s luxury Mar-a-Lago private club at West Palm Beach. Rinehart has also become a member.’
Pratt says he first met Rinehart at the Forbes Global CEO conference in Sydney in 2010, where during a gathering of some of the world’s most powerful business and political figures, he noticed that “Gina was so diligent in her note-taking”. The pair struck up a friendship, and while both are well known in business and finance circles, Pratt says he did not notice how widely recognised Rinehart was until they went to a dinner in honour of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2014.
“There were all these anti-Modi protestors there. But as soon as they saw Gina get out of the car, they ran up to her and starting getting selfies with her. She’s an Aussie star in that regard; she is an icon. You don’t get many people in business that sort of thing happens to.” Pratt says he witnessed the same phenomenon at last year’s Melbourne Cup.
He points admiringly to his friend’s persistence at the helm of her Hancock Prospecting empire, which includes securing a huge $US7.2 billion debt financial deal in 2014 with 19 banks and five Export Credit Agencies for her giant Roy Hill iron ore mine.
Both are unabashed fans of US president Donald Trump. Pratt famously bet $100,000 on Trump to win the US election, and joined the President’s luxury Mar-a-Lago private club at the billionaire’s enclave of West Palm Beach, in part at least to mix with Trump and his friends and supporters.
Rinehart has also become a member. She admires Trump for his strong leadership traits and discusses in detail the President’s recent State of the Union address. “Anthony introduced me to Mar-a-Lago and we have met a lot of wonderful people there,” she says.
“I have found Gina to be a nice person, warm and kind,” Pratt explains. “We are great mates. She is charismatic as well, and I admire that she thinks big in business. She is a great competitor who has grown her business and has paid more tax than just about anyone. She is also a great philanthropist.”
Pratt says his family’s Pratt Foundation, which has operated since the ’70s, gives away about $15 million to charitable causes annually. And while Rinehart cannot match that longevity, she has made rapid inroads with her Cambodian cause and other philanthropic ventures in Australia.
Later in the Siem Reap evening, Rinehart leads a group of about 30 people – including Thai hotel billionaire Bill Heinecke, Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott (Rinehart is an admirer and financial backer of Rowing Australia, which Scott chairs) and Hancock executives including Tad Watroba – to a function at the Prasat Kravan temple on the fringes of the ancient Angkor Wat complex. A light show bathes the temple in bright colours as guests dine under the stars on a mild Cambodian evening, taking in traditional dance performances and enjoying several courses of a Khmer-inspired menu.
Pratt sits at the head table with Rinehart, listening to stories from some of the charity’s alumni explaining how they have graduated from university and gone on to find employment after receiving support from their “Aussie mum” and her charity. Many of the stories are quite harrowing, and Rinehart steps in to comfort and embrace some of the speakers mid-speech. Afterwards she tells the audience how moved she is by the young women she calls her “Cambodian daughters”.
At the end of the evening, as she walks Pratt back to the roadside to depart for the airport and his trip back to Australia, the mining billionaire explains that she thinks highly of someone like Pratt for building a successful outpost in the US.
“I admire very much that he is an Australian who has made it big and great overseas. I admire anyone in a private capacity who is able to sustain their intelligence and hard work so they can employ 13,000 people, as Anthony does. That is a lot of responsibility on Anthony’s shoulders all the time.
“He is a great friend – and I rather like his singing voice.”
The author travelled to Cambodia with Visy
Article by John Stensholt, courtesy of the Australian, 30 March 2019