$220 million reasons to smile
How does a University of Adelaide graduate become one of Australia's richest citizens? With a little help from his mum, of course.
Shaun Bonétt graduated from the University of Adelaide with degrees in Laws and Arts in 1991. Last year he was named Australia's third-richest person under the age of 40, worth an estimated $220 million.
By any estimation, the 35-year-old property developer has joined the big league. He earns more than Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman and enjoys a portfolio of assets exceeding $1 billion.
Unlike Kidman, though, he has built his empire out of the public eye and without the intense media scrutiny that other high-flying Australian entrepreneurs endure.
The London-born, Australian/Maltese businessman credits much of his success to his mother, who proved an "amazing inspiration" and taught Shaun to believe he could achieve anything he wanted in life.
It's a philosophy he has embraced since childhood, from his education at St Ignatius College and the University of Adelaide, to his legal career and subsequent journey along the commercial property market road.
Today Mr Bonétt's business-the Precision Group-owns five shopping centres, three office buildings and two hotels along Australia's eastern seaboard and in Adelaide.
He is currently working on his largest project to date--a $360 million complex in Chatswood, Sydney, which will be the country's first shopping centre which integrates 70 retail stores over four levels, with a railway and bus interchange. It opens in 2008.
Although no longer a practising lawyer, Mr Bonétt said his studies at the University of Adelaide proved an invaluable training ground.
"I liken my degrees (Laws and Arts) to having been through a gymnastics course of building my thought processes. Understanding your rights and the way the law operates in Australia is a unique advantage for a business person.
"What was also particularly valuable was the way the University of Adelaide's legal course accommodated students who wanted to work part time," Mr Bonétt said.
This marriage of practical and theoretical skills enables students to make more effective subject choices, he argued.
"If universities work more closely with human resource divisions in the private sector this will also result in a much smoother and more cohesive transition for students entering the business world."
Mr Bonétt worked as a part-time law clerk in Adelaide in the late 1980s while completing his degrees, giving him an insight into the boom-and-bust era. "I saw most of the high flyers of South Australia and beyond being crushed by their perilous financial positions."
The experience left an indelible mark.
"The years I worked as a commercial lawyer emphasised the fundamental need to focus on the risks in any business dealings. I don't think any entrepreneur I acted for at the time had ever contemplated the possibility of their businesses collapsing-they all believed they were bullet-proof."
Mr Bonétt's willingness to take on risks led to his entry into the commercial property market. His first business venture with a childhood friend involved an investment of $6 million (with the bank's help) for a neighbourhood shopping centre in Newton.
Within a few years he had bought out his partner and started expanding his empire, facilitated by a national property boom.
"I learned how important it is to have the right team around you and additional financial resources to draw upon if necessary. I also learned to identify the important issues to pursue and allow the inconsequential matters to fall by the wayside."
The entrepreneur, who is married with a young family, has just completed his five-year business plan. He is now looking at diversifying his portfolio of interests and has established a charity foundation.
As for opportunities waiting in the wings, he lists the Internet as a key medium for future business success.
"The business medium of the Internet is still relatively young and offers incredible opportunities for ambitious young professionals. The integration between services that exist in the real world and their representation in the Internet is still at an early stage, but Australia is well positioned to take advantage of this."
He advises university graduates contemplating a business career to find a good mentor and not rush into anything.
"Research and more research is the key to business success and careful analysis will pay rewards. Business instincts are important but without a considered approach you may as well be going to a casino to gamble."■
STORY CANDY GIBSON