AIB Featured Business Leader – Marcus Blackmore
Marcus Blackmore has been at the helm of the largest nutraceutical empire in the world for over forty years. His experience and calm have seen the company grow steadily through the years, and now he’s reaping the benefits of a tailwind that’s taken everyone by surprise.
Born in 1945 at the end of World War II, Blackmore was raised in a household that valued alternative medicine highly. His father, Maurice Blackmore, was widely regarded as the father of Australian naturopathy – he established a health food store in 1938 and ran a naturopathic clinic in Queensland. The elder Blackmore believed in rigorous diet and exercise as a baseline for good health, and the household considered white sugar and white bread verboten a long time before Sarah Wilson came on the scene. Back then, his views were seen as niche; today, almost 70% of Australians use a natural healthcare product on a regular basis.
Blackmore assisted his father in the business through his younger years, learning to mix ointments as a teenager and working for him full time after he graduated high school at 18. It wasn’t always an easy relationship, with the pair having very different views about the way the business should be run. In fact, Blackmore senior sacked his forthright son at least three times before finally retiring in 1975 and handing over the reins. It was during those turbulent years that Marcus gained his military experience, serving in the military from 1969 to 1971, including service as a gunnery officer during the Vietnam War.
Throughout the later decades of the twentieth century, Blackmores became a trusted brand. Marcus expanded the business into New Zealand and Japan, then later into a number of other countries. The business acquired a number of competitors, and publicly listed on the ASX in 1985. By the 1990s, Blackmore was sponsoring events for charities and making sure that his company was at the forefront of environmental research, underlying his commitment to natural and holistic living.
Fast forward to 2008, and Blackmore was ready to reduce his hours in the company, and began working part time. It was then that he appointed Christine Holgate as CEO to take the reins.
And then the market changed. In January of 2016, The Australian Financial Review called it “the hottest stock on the ASX”, buoyed by strong growth in the Chinese market in the health supplement sector, which has seen the company’s fortunes turn around dramatically.
The Chinese growth market hasn’t been limited to supplements, although there has been serious growth in the sector; a huge increase in the baby formula market has given Blackmores another opportunity to thrive. In October of 2015, Blackmores signed off on a deal with dairy manufacturer Bega to create a baby formula of their own, the first shipment of which hit shelves at the beginning of 2016. The deal, expected to gain huge traction amongst Chinese buyers, saw Blackmore’s shares explode from $32 a year ago to over $200 when it was announced at the AGM. And that’s not the only change in direction planned – as consumers become more wary of ‘reduced salt/sugar’ products, Blackmores is moving more and more towards ‘medical food’ which promises to boost health without the need for additives or artificial modifications.
The explosion in the Chinese market has had a galvanising effect on both Blackmores and its founder. Despite selling off 150,000 shares in 2014, Marcus still owns 25% of the company, and in 2015 was propelled onto the Forbes Australia Rich List for the first time with a personal fortune of $50 million. That’s not to say that he doesn’t regret selling. “Nobody in this organisation had any concept that [a share price rise] was going to happen,” he said ruefully.
It’s hard to begrudge such a windfall to a man who has spent fifty years building the strength of his brand. Blackmore is widely agreed to be generous and loyal, with his many friends lauding his spirit and heart. Petrea King says of him that “he has a heart every bit as big as his business skills”, and the stories of his generosity are thick on the ground. When the 2009 tsunami devastated Samoa, Blackmore donated so much money to help rebuild that he is revered as an honorary chief in the nation. He’s also been recognised within Australia for his contributions. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1998 and received an Honorary Doctorate from Southern Cross University in 2006. A man with many friends and an unswerving dedication to the products he sells, Blackmore has steered his company through every squall with all the finesse of an experienced sailor.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Sydney Morning Herald,Australian Financial Review