STOKES, KERRY MATTHEW (1940– )
Kerry Stokes is Australia’s most significant locally based media proprietor, controlling the Seven Network, Pacific Magazines and West Australian Newspapers. He also has interests in Sky News Australia and the Prime Media Group. Most of his media interests are held through Seven West Media. Seven television reaches 13 million viewers a month, and the newspapers in the group are near monopolies in their West Australian markets. Seven West Media is controlled by Seven Group Holdings (SGH), of which Stokes is a 70 per cent owner and chairman. SGH also owns the Caterpillar earthmoving franchises for much of Australia and north-eastern China. These are the source of most of Stokes’ wealth. He also has extensive iron ore mining and real estate interests, mostly held by his private company, Australian Capital Equity.
Stokes was adopted as a baby, and raised in Melbourne’s slums. He left school at 14, and in later life discovered he was dyslexic. He made his first fortune in real estate during the 1960s Perth land boom, before developing shopping centres. He and builder Jack Bendat invested in regional media in Bunbury and Perth radio station 96FM in the mid-1970s. Stokes bought the Canberra television station CTC7 from John Fairfax & Sons in 1980, and in 1986 he won the new third commercial television licence in Perth.
In the 1980s, he made unsuccessful bids for Channel Ten and Channel Seven, then sold his media interests. However, he bought back the Golden West Network, and in 1989 purchased the Canberra Times, financed in part by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited—leading to a perception that he was ‘Murdoch’s man’.
In 1995, Stokes began to buy shares in the Seven Network. He quickly lifted his stake, succeeding in becoming chairman. For the next few years, he wove his way between Murdoch and Packer during the complex and internecine battles over pay television, to emerge as the controller of Channel Seven. However, he had been effectively locked out of the emerging pay television industry, and was forced to close his C7 pay television business.
In 2002, Stokes launched an unsuccessful legal battle alleging that News Limited had led a conspiracy to ‘kill C7’. In 2006, he began restructuring his empire. Today, SGH is not only a media company, but a diversified mining, media and investment group.
Stokes owns one of the most significant private art collections in the country, and has served as chair of the National Gallery of Australia. He has also shown an interest in Australian history, buying Victoria Crosses and other military artefacts for the nation, earning him a place on the Australian War Memorial Council. He presented the Boyer Lectures in 1994 and the Andrew Olle Media Lecture in 2001, and was appointed AC in 2008.
Two of Stokes’ four children, Ryan and Bryant, have been involved in the business. Ryan, now CEO of Australian Capital Equity, is seen as Stokes’ heir.
REF: M. Simons, Kerry Stokes (2013).