|7 Oct 2020
At Presentation evening this year, we were fortunate to have Old Boy, David Greatorex AO as our invited speaker. Upon visiting our school he imparted some of his wisdom, experience and knowledge as well as a fair share of his good humour.
David Greatorex AO, was born in 1933 in Manchester, England. David’s mother was a woman before her time and astute property developer before moving to Australia as the War broke out in Europe, arriving with David and his older brother in 1940. Travelling on the last ship to travel to Australia until after WWII, the vessel was bombed three times on the way, including one bomb hitting the ship. Fortunately it was a dud and didn’t explode.
Having been quite well off at the time, with household staff in a 35 room house and attending a nice primary school in England, David’s mother assigned her assets to her solicitor to manage whilst away during the war. However, after a short period, the lawyer decided to keep their assets and left them with nothing, stranded in Australia. This resulted in David’s family living in poverty for about ten years.
David’s brother went to work as a 14 year old and left home. David’s mother struggled to keep him in school. She re-married, into alcohol fuelled domestic violence. This caused them to move so much that David attended 21 primary schools. At his last, Darlington Primary, after a few weeks’ attendance he topped the final year. The headmaster explained that he couldn’t put him up as Dux because another boy had topped every exam previously but did send him to be tested. As a result he went to Sydney High, commencing in 1946.
Despite poor attendance and constant moving he managed to hold his own and even win a few prizes. He found it exciting to be challenged by his intellectual peers. Although not a gifted athlete, he became a NSW champion and representative through hard work. He only played class rugby at school because he didn’t have the gear. However when asked by the coach of the 1st XV to play in the firsts, he declined, too embarrassed to disclose that his family’s financial state meant he could not afford the required uniform. David remembers the rugby coach was also the Advanced English Master, and felt that his refusal to join the 1st XV resulted in a negative relationship between the two, leading to him dropping
Advanced English. This meant that with two months to the final exams he needed to find another subject to gain a university scholarship. He managed to scrape through Economics with just two months’ study.
With his other, better results he was able to attend the University of Sydney, where he took an Honours degree in Mathematics, with six others. He taught Sunday School at the Waverley Wesley Mission (now the site of DJ’s Bondi Junction store). Alan (later Sir Alan) Walker was the minister and helped him gain a scholarship to Wesley College.
He spent more time on other activities than study, representing the University in three sports and editing the newspaper, Honi Soit.
At High the careers adviser suggested he either be a school teacher or an actuary. He wasn’t sure what the latter was so decided to try it. After university he joined an insurance company. Quickly finding that role boring, he joined IBM, then a small but growing company in Australia. After overseas assignments he became Chairman and MD in New Zealand at age 37.
He then returned to Australia and left IBM, eventually joining Capital Finance as Managing Director, where he and his team rebuilt the struggling insurer into a successful company. But eventually it was merged with another company and he left because about this time Premier Greiner had asked him to chair the State Bank of NSW in order to prepare it for sale.
Not long before this he met Peter Farrell at a friend’s BBQ. They became friends and decided to look for medical IP to commercialise. They found it in Professor Colin Sullivan’s sleep apnoea research. Peter and David formed a $2 company to exploit the technology.
They called it ResCare but when it became the first Australian company to list on the NASDAQ that name was taken so they changed it to ResMed. Today it has a market cap of about $35 billion. When it listed Peter had 10% and David 5%.
Further, amongst a mix of successful and unsuccessful start-ups, David and his friend Geoff Ross listed a cybersecurity start-up in 1996 with David as Chair and Geoff as MD, with a value of $12 million. Less than three years later this was $1.3 billion. Thus David has had two “unicorns”.
Perhaps the most important social role David played related to us at Sydney High, was as the first Chair of the Centennial & Moore Park Trust, the home for our grounds at McKay Oval and the Fairland pavilion. In 1984, then Premier Neville Wran, noted some questionable financial behaviour in the Park’s administration so he established a Trust to own the Park and asked David to be the first Chair. It proved to be a gift for us for generations to come as we finalised a 25 year license extension.
Whilst David was the Chair, Wran dismissed the Sydney City Council and put in three eminent Australians as a committee to run it until they could implement the reforms needed. At that time, Council had approved a developer to buy the netball area near the tennis courts and the Moore Park Golf Club to build apartments. David knew all three well and suggested that to keep this land in the hands of the NSW people, and that they be moved to the control of the Trust. David remained Chair for four years, until Premier Nick Greiner, asked him to Chair the State Bank of NSW, and ready it for privatisation, so he stepped down from the Trust.
David, apart from his start-ups, spends much of his time on community and philanthropic activities. He was for twelve years secretary of the Wesley Mission, thirty years a member of the Salvation Army Advisory board, Chair of the Girl Guides’ Foundation and of the Westmead Millennium Institute and board member of TAFE and the Sydney Dance Company, plus a number of commercial companies.
His wife was a professional musician and for thirty years a guide at the Art Gallery of NSW. So their foundation is mostly supportive of cultural and religious entities.
He and school friend Bill Widerberg are organising a 70th year reunion later in the year. Thus at 87 he is still busy.
As many of you know, the OBU have been working very closely with the School on the Governors Centre project for several … More...