He might be 74 but Australian/Canadian businessman Jack Cowin has no plans for retirement or slowing down and tells The Guide he’d only last “10 minutes on the beach”.
He’d rather talk about what he’s good at – diversifying his business – and outlines how his Canadian business Quantum has just bought out American company Apache Industrial Services and merged it with its portfolio company Skyway.
“We had an existing business in Canada. We merged it into a larger US company in the gold industrials, an industrial services business called Apache,” he says.
As a $500m revenue company, he says it’s a “pretty substantial business”.
With Cowin now reportedly worth now worth more than $1.7 billion, it’s a far cry from the days when he hit up 30 friends for $10,000 each so he could buy his first KFC store in Perth.
It was December 1969. The store was on the corner of Canning Highway and North Lake Road in Alfred Cove. Hungry Jack’s was yet to come.
It might have been 48 years ago, but he remembers it well.
“The reality was I had come from Canada and I was 25 years old. I had a wife, a six-month-old child and this desire to get into my own business but no money to speak of,” he says.
“So I got 30 people to lend me $10,000 each. That was the stake to get started and it was kind of a dramatic moment of if that failed everything would fail.
“It was all on the line to win or lose.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Cowin went on to found Hungry Jack’s in Australia, which now has 400 stores. His retailing, manufacturing and exporting company Competitive Foods Australia Pty Ltd employs more than 16,000 staff in Australia and New Zealand.
When asked what it’s like to go from borrowing $10,000 from friends to being rated 1234 on the latest Forbes list of world billionaires, he says it’s irrelevant.
“If you are buying or selling something that might be a factor, but the reality is when you are on the treadmill of running a business, growing a business, expanding a business, you are not buying and selling it as a commodity. You are building it brick by brick, by brick. You are building a wall of earnings and people and talent and things like that, so I wouldn’t spend 10 seconds on it.”
He’ll tell the story of how he started his business in Perth and pass on some life’s lessons as part of CCI’s Lighthouse Leadership series lunch on May 18. Book your tickets here.