An honour well deserved

Ross Greenwood speaks to mentor and colleague, Robert Gottliebsen, who has received a Member of the Order of Australia, for significant service to the media as a journalist, editor and business analyst, and to education through school governance roles.

Introduction: An honour well deserved

Ross Greenwood: Great day to your company here on Morning News going right across the country. As I was browsing today through the — honestly, it’s the Queen’s birthday list, with the people who received awards, I received an enormous and very pleasant surprise. That is my very good friend and mentor, Robert Gottliebsen, was among those to receive a Queen’s Birthday Honor. Now, Bob Gottliebsen, I’ve got to say, now, well into his seventies is as relevant as a writer in the Australian newspaper today as he ever has been.

If you go back and think about some of the things that you might inherently understand, you guys have the back page of The Financial Review everyday, and you see the Chanticleer column there. That’s Bob Gottliebsen, because he was the first Chanticleer, that’s his column effectively that was in passed on the people such as Alan Kohler, or Ivy Risso. Some of the other great journalists. John Dewry was there at one stage. Of course, you got Tony Boyd in that particular role.

If you think of, say, Business Review Weekly, BRW, that was Bob. He was the founding editor and, in fact, the man who, during a period of time at BRW Enterprises, was the chief executive. One stage, that included Time Magazine. It included Personal Investment Magazine, Chase Magazine. It went overseas to the UK and then New Zealand.

On top of that, think about the fact that Bob Gottliebsen never appeared, not only the Walkley Award, but also the Australian Journalist of the Year award, two of journalism’s highest honors. It’s also the people that he’s mentored along the way. People such as myself, or David Koch, or Alan Kohler, or Adele Ferguson. There’s many others along the way who have worked with Bob as well.

I’ve tracked him down. He’s in Scotland at the moment traveling, and I think he’s on the line right now. Hello, Bob. How are you?

Interview with: Robert Gottliebsen, Finance Journalist

Robert Gottliebsen: Yes. Good morning. It’s morning here.

Ross Greenwood: It is morning there, at least anyway, so that’s all good. Okay. This is a terrific honor. Just only a few months ago, I was given, again, another honor myself in regards to introducing you as you were called into the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Melbourne Press Club. I’ve done a bit of research on you. One of the interesting parts of that is a lot of people don’t realize that you, like all the journalists these days, including myself, pretty much started at the bottom of the rung as copy boy, didn’t you? All of this you went through.

Robert Gottliebsen: Yes. I started with The Melbourne Herald. I was a copy boy. I was a first and just doing general journalism. That was a long time ago.

Ross Greenwood: Okay. Fifty-nine. Then, how did you come out to find business journalism? Because, like seven other people that was rather odd career to take on as a journalist in those days, most people wanted to be sports reporters or crime reporters, or something like that, not business reporters.

Robert Gottliebsen: In The Melbourne Herald in those days, you moved around. You went through graveyards, and school. And I’m put into journalism, and business journalism. When I got into business journalism, I could see that there are contemporaries, and I liked it. I wanted to stay. The Herald said, “No, no, you can’t stay. You got to keep going around,” but the age might be enough for the stay. So I stayed in business journalism all the way through. It’s a pretty good decision. When you’re in those early years, when your career is in those stage, that sort of decisions can be really important, and that was a good one for me.

Ross Greenwood: Okay. So the other interesting side of that is even in those days, business reporting was very dense. It was very formal, and yet you somehow along the way gained a more irreverent way of writing about it. A more conversational way of writing about it, which you then taught to a whole bunch of other people, including myself. How was it you came upon that style?

Robert Gottliebsen: Along the way, when I was 21, I became in charge of the Sydney Morning Herald newsdesk. And the man writing the daily column at that time was a fellow called Tom Steward. Tom, he was a national legend or Sydney legend. That’s what he did. He was really clever, the way he made entertainment out of business. He was very serious but he’s also entertaining. He was so just what a tremendous impact on how– I just really loved it when someone just above the board, timing in the straight news.

It was a long time later before I actually did that sort of journalism. I still did just how can be. I like doing it that way. It’s much easier when you’re talking to your readers and chatting away with them. And they like it, too.

Ross Greenwood: Okay. So then take me to The Financial Review and the Chanticleer column because they say that in itself was a different style. That was a different thing and The Financial Review during those years have been a very formal publication in its infancy. It gave it a little bit more style, a little bit more flair, if you like.

Robert Gottliebsen: I was in the blocking business at that time. I left journalism, garnered blocking and more than come out and back into journalism. I was then the managing editor of The Financial Review and we planned this column. I would write it four days a week. I write the National Times once a week as well. We would– might have been the timing. We would do this thing, because we had to do it, That was my job to do it.

The name Chanticleer came from Max Walsh, the editor at the time and off we went. A column had started in the Financial Times  and Vic wanted a column that would be a black because I had a huge staff. Got only one version. People wondered whether I could keep it up. Once you get into it, once you get to do this daily columns, they’re really interesting. They didn’t just come to you and you’re part of a news, you’re part of what’s happening all the time. And in some ways, writing daily is as if you’ve been writing weekly, because you’re constantly reinvigorated by what’s taking place.

We did that and it took off, people actually start to read it. You grew up, and people see others that would use it as a reference point and subscribe.

Ross Greenwood: The other then step that you took was BRW. That’s where you and I came in contact, of course. I was gee at the time, I think I was only 25 or something of the sort. Maybe even earlier. I might have been younger, might have been early 21 or something like that. I think it’s 25, I might have been 21 or something of that nature. I was just thinking of you, Bob. You took in a lot of very young people to do Business Review Weekly. It was a fun for everybody. You didn’t know whether it would work.

Even though, yes, the magazine itself had its own life, but the second thing that happened was the deregulation of Australia’s economy and currency. That really led to an explosion of not only deals, but also of literacy and financial products that meant that there was a great repertoire for some of those products.

Robert Gottliebsen: Yes. With BRW, it was a big pant because Carrie Pecker have launched the magazine earlier. We are bringing our magazine in the out, I think it was the incumbent. Nobody thought it will ever win. And so we ran around and go to hire young people like yourself and take on part of the adventure. They knew it was a long shot and we pulled it off. You’re right, the market developed.

What we did do was to pay– BRW Magazine can’t cover all those different markets. We started shares magazine. We started a computer magazine. We actually did produced other products, all the market at the time. It was incredibly successful. That group of young people who started quickly at that time, an enormous number of them, have done extraordinarily well. It just so exciting, it might be a long shot. Of course, there was a lot of action in the economy and the business media, investment media as well.

Ross Greenwood: One other aspect of it is we move forward through your career. Obviously, at the end of BRW, when it was ultimately taken over by The Financial Review, you had defined options and choices. You, Steve Bartholomew, James Kirby, Alan Kohler, got together, created a Business Spectator, which is now inside News Limited, inside The Australian, where your columns now appear. At that stage, you’re well into your 60s. That’s a pretty big fun for a bloke in his 60s to take.

Robert Gottliebsen: Alan Kohler came in. My wife was there, too. I got to 65 by that time and I’ve retired. “You know, you got to come back.” There’s this little billy, because you know, a few times a week and– [laughs It was exciting because at that particular point of time, news is not really taking media this seriously in business journalism as they should. We came in, filled that gap and once you read it, of course, it was just so interesting. We opt writing in a new medium. We do exact the same thing. We pulled in young talents and they are just as excited as us. It was enjoyable overall. I’ll do it all over again in any way.

Ross Greenwood: I was going to say, there’s one other aspect to this, Bob. That is you, now, well into your 70s, you’re still writing as relevantly as you ever have. A lot of people follow you, and so, okay. You got some of your recent qualms, text cuts, the best life forward. R&D. The heart on the text line. Dangerous times as police. ATR repeating the bank’s mistakes. Victoria label delivers for unions. This is prolific stuff. It’s insightful stuff. You’re well into your 70s, you’re in pretty good form for a bloke who a lot of people say should have been retired some time. These changes the definition retirement of a certain extent.

Robert Gottliebsen: You guys, I’ve been blessed the ability to do this. My range is what Australia needs. If you’ve had enough of me, give me a ring. Stop arguing you. It’s a stringy arrangement. we laugh about it. I enjoyed doing it and I can do it.

Ross Greenwood: Keep doing it as long as you can, Bob. That’s all I can say. Can I just say, too? Robert Gottliebsen is a man who is certainly been the influence for much of what you see and read on newspapers, televisions, on radio in regards to business and finance journalism these days. He’s helped to improve the financial literacy of Australians. There is no shadow of doubt about that. And Order of Australia, very well deserved. From Scotland, Bob Gottliebsen, I appreciate your time this evening here on the program.

Robert Gottliebsen: Thank you very much.

[00:09:51] [END OF AUDIO]

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