AIB Featured Business Leader – Harry Triguboff
Harry Triguboff is playfully known as “high-rise Harry”, a nickname that refers to the thousands of apartment developments created in Australia by Triguboff and his company. The founder and managing director of Meriton, Australia’s largest apartment developer and residential home builder, his personal net worth is estimated at over $10 billion.
Triguboff was born in China in 1933, the son of Russian Jews who had fled their country after the rise of Communism. His family moved to Australia in 1947 where he attended school, before he went on to study in Britain and graduated from the University of Leeds. In 1960 Triguboff returned to Australia and decided to call it home, becoming a citizen the following year.
After working at a variety of jobs, Triguboff bought a block of land and hired a builder to build him a house. The builder, he says, turned out to be awful, so Triguboff fired him and finished the build himself. From that day on, his career was set. Once his own house was finished, Triguboff bought another block of land in Sydney and joined with a partner to build a block of eight apartments. “I looked around and saw cottages everywhere”, he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I thought it was time they started living in apartments”. He learned as he went, refining his process for choosing sub-contractors and closely overseeing every stage of the build. Even today, he is known for his hands-on approach to his role. Five years later, he borrowed again and built a larger development, 18 units on Meriton Street in Gladesville. From that build he took the name Meriton and established his company in the same year. In 1972 he listed Meriton on the Australian Stock Exchange, but bought the shares back in full about 18 months later when he decided that ownership of the company was too precious to sell.
By the 1980s, Meriton had refined its processes, buying during slumps and selling during booms, and the cyclical nature of the property market ensured the company’s continued success. By 2000, the company was debt-free and funding its own projects, which allowed Triguboff to build up an enviable asset base. That asset base provided the insulation that most companies found themselves without a few years later when the Global Financial Crisis hit. Banking on the assumption that people would want to buy affordable apartments even in tough times, Meriton kept building and people kept buying. As economic pressure has eased, another factor has come into play that bodes well for Triguboff’s continued success: demographic shifts.
That first apartment build took place in 1963, when the great Australian dream of owning your own quarter-acre block was very much alive and well. Today, with housing affordability on everybody’s list of concerns, the Meriton apartments represent a way to get into the market for people otherwise excluded. “He’s [Triguboff] giving people a choice”, Bob Carr has said of the developments. And the demographic shift is notable. In NSW, where affordability is at its lowest, 20.5% of people now live in apartments, up from 14.3% just 15 years ago. Interest from Asia in buying Australian property has also swollen Triguboff’s fortunes, with more and more apartment buyers coming into NSW from China in particular.
But not everybody is so keen. Triguboff is vocal about his desire to see Sydney, and Australia as a whole, become higher-density across the board. He has called for the country to aim for a population of 100 million instead of the 23 million it currently boasts. He believes Sydney has ‘too many forests and parks’. His vision is at odds with an Australia that increasingly favours ‘strengthening its borders’ and restricting immigration. And it’s certainly at odds with residents of Sydney suburbs who don’t want their leafy views obstructed by high density buildings, constructed to be as tall as the planning department will allow. But even with those objections, Triguboff’s apartments continue to sell. “We are no longer the enemy”, he says, referring to the increased uptake of apartments by first-time buyers. “Apartments are acceptable”.
Like his developments or loathe them, it’s irrefutable that Triguboff is committed to making his adopted country great. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1990, for “service to building and construction and for philanthropy”. His philanthropic efforts have seen him become the benefactor to many schools, as well as the Sydney Cancer Centre, the Australian Red Cross, Westmead Children’s Hospital, Bowel Cancer Fund Research, and various Jewish causes.
As Triguboff approaches his 83rd birthday, some have speculated whether he’ll slow down or pass on the reins. “I will retire when I become useless and I will be the first to understand that”, he insists.
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: Forbes, It’s An Honour, Sydney Morning Herald, Gold Coast Bulletin, BRW and Property Observer.
Photo credit: Australian Financial Review