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Does attending an upmarket private school increase your chances of one day joining the BRW Rich 200 ?
Analysis of this year’s rich list says “no”. But it comes with caveats.
The top 10 wealthiest Australians are split: five have the best education money can buy, four attended public schools or dropped out before graduation and one is unknown.
The most spectacular of the non-private brigade is property tycoon Frank Lowy, who is ranked six on this year’s list. Lowy’s schooling was interrupted at the age of 13 by the Nazi occupation of Hungary. After migrating to Australia he didn’t complete his schooling.
The idea that an elite education is more important to maintaining wealth than creating it is supported by our database.
There’s a marked distinction between the educational history of those who have created wealth for themselves and those that have inherited it.
Of the wealthy individuals who finished high school, and that we can trace, just 61 went
to top-notch private schools. Of these, about 80 per cent inherited a significant proportion
of their wealth.
There is much greater diversity, and a higher representation of state schools, in the educational background of self-made millionaires and billionaires.
Public schools churned out their fair share of the mega rich over the years – at least
22 that we know of.
Mining magnate Nathan Tinkler – the richest Australian under the age of 40 – attended four high schools, all of them public. And he was caught up in his fair share of school yard brawls.
“None have asked me back,” Tinkler says. The fighting may have something to do with it.
Fellow Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer makes it back to his alma mater Southport State High School, in a working class suburb on the Gold Coast, every two or three years to give students a pep talk.
Southport principal Steve McLuckie says the kids worship celebrities – even corporate ones. “The [Palmer] visits increase the kids’ scope of possibilities,” McLuckie says.
“A couple of students have altered their career paths after his visit, electing to study business at university rather than do a trade.”
At least seven of the rich listers didn’t even finish school. Drop-outs include television baron Reg Grundy, aged-care executive Doug Moran, hotelier Bruce Mathieson, property developer and winery owner Terry Morris, logistics mavericks Lindsay Fox and Greg Poche, and technology entrepreneur Chris Morris.
The fact that these individuals made it to the ranks of the wealthy proves that no school – private or otherwise – has an exclusive hold over the essential elements of success: vision, hard yakka and a healthy dose of luck.
That said, the wealthy quickly cast off their working class roots once they accumulate riches.
An acute awareness of the importance of networks forged at school means successful entrepreneurs immediately enrol their children in top-notch private schools. The clustering of rich kids in particular institutions tends to be more pronounced in NSW.
Geelong Grammar in Victoria is an exception. This elite Melbourne school has attracted the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the Fairfax clan, telecommunications entrepreneur Philip Cornish and David, Michael and Ian Darling from the blue-chip corporate family.
In Sydney, the super rich flock to Cranbrook, The King’s School and Sydney Grammar. Cranbrook helped James Packer, cattleman Sterling Buntine, Transfield joint managing director Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, Michael and David Hannan, and Angus and Richard Grinham through their formative years.
Sydney Grammar is the alma mater of Aristocrat Leisure founder Len Ainsworth, fund manager Phil Mathews and former Liberal party leader, Malcolm Turnbull.
The King’s School, in North Parramatta, groomed Bing Lee chief executive Lionel Lee, investment manager Robert Maple-Brown and investor Robert Whyte. Headmaster Tim Hawkes says the school is proud of its eminent old boys but advocates influence for good over using it to build wealth.
“We don’t see ourselves as a school whose attraction is being able to make our students wealthy,” Hawkes says. “Our attraction rests more in moulding character.”