General Nick Politis

bruce

Contributor

Cars, rugby league and a grenade: Inside the life of billionaire Nick Politis​

He’s a migrant from a small Greek island who helped save rugby league and turned a single car dealership into a $2 billion fortune. But for publicity-shy Nick Politis, it’s never been just about the money – it’s also about loyalty.
It was around two o’clock one morning when Phil Gould’s phone rang. On the end of the line was his dad delivering some bad news. Gould’s mother, who’d been suffering from severe headaches, was at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital and had taken a terrible turn. Gould, a former star rugby league player and premiership-winning coach, feared his mum might not make it. Few of the hospital’s top specialists would be working at that early hour and Gould’s mind raced through a list of people he could ring that might be able to help. He dialled Nick Politis.

“I called Nick, and within 20 minutes one of Australia’s leading neurosurgeons walked into the emergency waiting room, wearing a dressing gown and slippers, and attended to my parents. My mother is still alive 20 years later. How do you repay a man who does this? And just what makes a leading surgeon say ‘yes’ to Nick Politis?”
Nick Politis is one of Australia’s least-known billionaires. He’s 80, of modest height, and does yoga four times a week. He also happens to be one of the most powerful men in rugby league, and is the most influential person in the Australian car industry. From a single car dealership, he’s built a $2 billion fortune; and today, one in six cars sold nationwide are connected to businesses owned by him.
It’s easy to imagine that as a rich and powerful man Politis could buy anyone’s help, but close friends say that’s not how he operates. People don’t help him out just because he’s very wealthy, says David Gyngell, a former chief executive of the Nine television network, who’s known the billionaire for nearly 30 years. They met through football and a shared passion for the inner-city rugby league club, the Sydney Roosters. Gyngell says Politis is successful in part because of the investment he makes in relationships, whether it’s with a car executive, a footballer or a neurosurgeon. “Nick puts the time in with people,” he says.
Phil Gould can attest that Politis’ power is more soft than hard. He’s watched Politis assist others, not just financially, as many would assume, but through finding them jobs, mentoring them, supporting them at their lowest points, and at critical times putting the right people together, like that early morning when his parents found themselves at St Vincent’s.
Nick Politis is one of Australia’s least-known billionaires. He’s 80, of modest height, and does yoga four times a week. He also happens to be one of the most powerful men in rugby league, and is the most influential person in the Australian car industry. From a single car dealership, he’s built a $2 billion fortune; and today, one in six cars sold nationwide are connected to businesses owned by him.
It’s easy to imagine that as a rich and powerful man Politis could buy anyone’s help, but close friends say that’s not how he operates. People don’t help him out just because he’s very wealthy, says David Gyngell, a former chief executive of the Nine television network, who’s known the billionaire for nearly 30 years. They met through football and a shared passion for the inner-city rugby league club, the Sydney Roosters. Gyngell says Politis is successful in part because of the investment he makes in relationships, whether it’s with a car executive, a footballer or a neurosurgeon. “Nick puts the time in with people,” he says.
Phil Gould can attest that Politis’ power is more soft than hard. He’s watched Politis assist others, not just financially, as many would assume, but through finding them jobs, mentoring them, supporting them at their lowest points, and at critical times putting the right people together, like that early morning when his parents found themselves at St Vincent’s.
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It’s a skill that leads Martin Ward, a car executive who’s worked with Politis for more than two decades, to call Politis the “master facilitator”. “Nick will facilitate all sorts of people making the right connection.” Such acts have earned him enormous loyalty. In return, says Gould: “You never want to let him down.”

Loyalty is a word that comes up often when people talk about Politis, which may explain his nickname, the Godfather. It’s a sobriquet he dislikes intensely. “If Nick’s in a room with car manufacturers and other dealers, and he says something, you can hear a pin drop,” says Ward. “He’s the Godfather of the automotive industry.” There are more than 2000 family-operated car dealerships in Australia. Some families have made hundreds of millions in a very tough industry where the profit margins are wafer thin, but none have made billions like Politis.

In rugby league circles, Politis, who has thick, gunmetal grey hair that he wears neatly combed back, is also called the Godfather – no matter that his heritage lies in Greece. He first got involved with rugby league nearly half a century ago, sponsoring the Sydney Roosters through his car business. It was a commercial decision but his involvement soon developed into devotion; he follows every sweaty detail of the game with unwavering zeal, knowing the player agents and promising kids coming through.

He became chairman of the Roosters board almost 30 years ago and is now the most dominant club-level figure in rugby league, with a reputation as a shrewd and ruthless politician of the game. He earned that during the 1995-97 Super League war, when he played a key role in saving rugby league from being torn apart by the Murdochs and the Packers. Businessman Mark Bouris, who’s known Politis for 20 years and also sits on the Roosters board, says he plays the sport’s game of thrones “brilliantly”.

Bouris says friends know Politis as a gentle, kind man with sometimes too much of a soft touch, but adds that there’s a hardness to him in business, too. “He’s not someone you want to pick a fight with,” says Bouris. “He has means and capacity beyond most, and he will use them to get there. Capacity means friends, colleagues, people who will dig in for him. Maybe some people are loyal towards him because they see that, and they don’t want to get on the wrong side of him.”In Australia, there are more than 100 billionaires, and a handful of them hog the headlines. Politis isn’t one of them; his success is rarely celebrated in the media. Gyngell says it’s because Politis doesn’t like doing interviews and isn’t showy. He doesn’t own a private jet, a fleet of luxury cars, racehorses or a super yacht on which to entertain political hacks, models or movies stars. He prefers the company of family and close friends than that of hangers on. However, to be part of Politis’ inner circle, one has to accept his insistence on loyalty and privacy.
“He doesn’t act like a billionaire,” says Gyngell, which is not to suggest that Politis is some saintly aesthete, far from it. He drives a Mercedes – he changes brands every few years to keep the managers at his different car dealerships happy – and also has a Toyota Kluger, which he takes up to his Hunter Valley farm. He owns the farm with his friend, former Australian Rugby League boss John Quayle, whom he’s known since the 1970s, and it comes complete with a small golf course, vineyard and olive grove. He has houses and apartments worth tens of millions of dollars in Sydney, and a residence in Greece which, pre-pandemic, he visited a couple of times a year.

While Politis is one of Australia’s most successful businessmen, he is also one of the country’s most successful migrants. And like so many migrants, his start in life was tougher than most. His story, literally, begins with a bang.


Most people recall their first significant birthday present: a watch, a bike or maybe, more recently, a mobile phone. For Nick Politis, it was a grenade. He was four years old. Politis was born on Kythera, a Greek island that juts into the Mediterranean Sea about 200 kilometres south of Athens. A handful of notable Australians trace their roots to Kythera, including Mad Max film director George Miller, the late Supreme Court judge Theodore Simos – who as a QC, represented the British government in the Spycatcher case – and Peter V’landys, chair of the Australian Rugby League Commission.
For centuries, Kythera was conquered by different empires from the Romans, Venetians and the French to the British, who all coveted its location near shipping routes that crisscrossed between the Middle East, Africa and Europe. During World War II, Germany took Kythera and the Nazis arrived on the island in May 1941. Three months later, Nick Politis was born to George and Argyro Politis. The Nazi arrival spurred George, who’d been teaching agricultural science on the island, to sign up with the Greek Resistance. He became involved in frustrating the German’s efforts and smuggling supplies and information to British troops.
“The Germans were always trying to track my father down,” recalls Politis, who is sitting in his modest office in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney’s east, dressed in a well-tailored blue suit and a crisp white business shirt. “My mother was always worried because they used to just execute people. Fortunately, we dodged all of that.”
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The Nazis plundered Greece, leaving the country’s economy in ruins. While lots of Greeks died fighting, many also starved to death in a famine that was caused by the war. In 1944, when British troops liberated Kythera, they wrote about the island’s poverty and the locals’ hunger.

Almost a year after that liberation, in late August 1945, Nick Politis turned four. World War II was nearing its official end, but Greece’s situation had not improved. There remained massive food shortages and the country was descending into civil war. There was no birthday cake for him.

His parents had little to give their only child, but George Politis was determined to do something for his son’s birthday. In desperation, he laid his hands on an Italian-made grenade and decided to put on a show. George found a disused walled courtyard on Kythera, and into it he tossed the grenade, while Nick watched. They waited for the loud bang but when nothing happened, George went to investigate. “The thing went off and it hit him in the face,” says Politis. “He had these scars on his face for the rest of his life. That was my birthday celebration.”

Politis is quiet for a moment. “So maybe all that makes me a bit different to the rest.”
His family arrived in Australia when he was eight, having left Greece after the civil war, which claimed one of his uncles in a firing squad. Argyro Politis had relatives in Australia, who sponsored their move. Through her family they found work in the remote sheep grazing town of Blackall, about 11 hours north-west of Brisbane, where the family ran a cafe, which they later bought a stake in. They also had a second child, a sister, Maria, for young Nick. “We were the only non-Australians in the town,” says Politis. “It was a different world then, they used to call us wogs and dagos.”
From an early age, a strong work ethic was instilled in him. He attended school, quickly improving his English, and in the afternoons helped out at the cafe or manned the petrol bowser outside it. There was no high school in Blackall, so his parents saved and when he was old enough, he was sent away to Ipswich Grammar. In Ipswich, Politis lived with extended family, who ran a fruit shop, where he would work after school.
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“In Kythera they had nothing, and they came here with nothing,” says John Quayle. “It wasn’t an easy upbringing at all. Making sure he had the right education was a sacrifice and commitment from his family, who worked seven days a week.” But their fortunes changed in 1958 when Nick’s father won £100,000 in a lottery, which in today’s money is equivalent to $3.3 million. George Politis would give a lot of the money away.


The story of any immigrant is often that of two generations. The parents who leave behind their home country to give their children a better life: to thrive at school, get a job and make money. Then there are the children of those migrants, for whom gratitude and guilt feel almost identical, as they repay the debt to their parents with their success, which is true of Politis.

On the walls in his office, there is a series of black-and-white photos. Behind where he sits, hangs a picture of a young Prince Charles at Bondi Beach. Next to it is a photo of the Queen and Prince Philip at a rugby league match. Both photos were taken in 1977, the Silver Jubilee year of the Queen’s reign. The royals were on tour in Australia and a rangy, jug-eared Charles had gone for a surf at Bondi, with the world’s media photographers and television cameras in tow, and emblazoned on the back of one of the surfboards were the words City Ford, the name of Politis’ first car dealership. City Ford had sponsored the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club.
While in Sydney, the Queen and Prince Philip attended the final of rugby league’s pre-season competition, the Wills Cup, between the Eastern Suburbs Roosters (as the Sydney Roosters were then known) and the North Sydney Bears. The Queen was dressed for the occasion, wearing white gloves and hat. As they watched the game, the words City Ford were visible on the front and back of Easts’ jerseys. Politis’ dealership had also sponsored Easts.

The Easts deal was almost as big a coup as having the heir to the British throne provide free advertising for his car dealership. No rugby league club had had a sponsor on its jerseys before Politis proposed the idea in 1976.
“In those days, it’s no different to now, they were all screaming for more revenue,” he explains. “Easts were the glamour team. They were a perfect fit for our car business, as the eastern suburbs was our prime market area.”

On another wall are photos of him with members of the Ford motoring dynasty. There’s also a plaque of seven quotes from Henry Ford about the importance of enthusiasm. The father of the motor car believed enthusiasm was the root of all progress, whether in business or life. It’s a motto Politis has tried to live by, ever since he was hired by Ford as a graduate trainee straight out of the University of Queensland, where he’d studied commerce and economics.
Politis was employed by Ford for nearly a decade, working his way up the sales and marketing ranks to become a company executive with regional responsibility for Queensland and NSW. He quit Ford in 1974, however, after it refused to allow him to buy a dealership. “In those days the mindset was you can’t be an executive of the Ford Motor Company and then become a dealer, and I said, ‘Well, why not?’ ”

A few months after leaving, Politis returned to the Ford family, when he bought into one of its ailing dealerships on the fringe of Sydney’s CBD. Ford had a loan program that encouraged new buyers. It held 80 per cent of the dealership; new owners could buy a small initial stake then the remainder over time. Politis and another partner each bought a 10 per cent stake in the dealership, costing them $10,000 apiece. City Ford was valued at $100,000 at the time.

It didn’t work out between Politis and his business partner and soon after the latter left. The dealership continued to struggle, and Politis knew he had to do something to fix it, so he embarked on the sponsorships of the surf lifesaving club and Easts, as well as an advertising blitz to lift the dealership’s profile. It worked.
While City Ford’s fortunes were turning around, Politis experienced personal tragedy. In 1979, his eldest son, George, who’d been named after his father, died from cancer. He was nine. “Nick did everything he could and so did his family,” says John Quayle.

Politis won’t discuss his son’s death. Quayle is not surprised; it’s a no-go subject. Politis is guarded about most of his private life, especially his two other children, Anthony and Erin. Anthony works in Politis’ private car business, known as WFM Motors, as does Erin’s husband. Asked about his former marriage, Politis declines to answer any questions. Nor will he discuss his long-term partner, Fiona.

By the ’80s, Politis had taken full ownership of City Ford, and begun acquiring other dealerships. He knew the margins in selling cars were skinny and the only way to make a decent profit was through economies of scale, which meant increasing the volume of cars he sold by owning more dealerships, and rationalising back-office costs.

Ford would make it challenging for him. It didn’t want Politis becoming too dominant – he was already the biggest Ford dealer in Australia – and the company halted his expansion. Ford encouraged Politis to look at buying into one of its dealerships overseas, which he did. He ended up acquiring eight dealerships across the UK, France and the US, until Ford put the brakes on that, too, in the 1990s.
“I was a Ford guy, and I stayed as long as I could,” he says. By then, Politis had already expanded into other car brands in Australia and also overseas, starting with Toyota, and eventually growing to represent more than 30 brands including Mercedes, Porsche, Subaru, Mazda, Volkswagen and Nissan.
In May last year, he exited a dealership that sold brands such as Nissan, in California.


While Nick Politis was building his fortune in cars, he was also establishing his influential network through football, the community in which he anchored himself after his son’s death. “Everybody follows something, I follow rugby league and the Roosters, that’s my outlet,” he says.

Politis met Kerry Packer in the 1970s through rugby league. They would sit and watch the Roosters’ games with a bunch of guys, chewing Fantales and smoking cigarettes. Among them was Ron Jones, chair of the Eastern Suburbs Leagues Club (the Roosters). Jones, a war veteran, had been a wardsman at St Vincent’s before becoming chair of the club, and was well-connected to many up-and-coming doctors, including a promising young heart surgeon called Victor Chang. Chang and others from St Vincent’s would often come to the football club’s restaurant for a meal.

Politis had a reputation as a workaholic, and cigarettes and stress from his lifestyle eventually took their toll. On a work trip to the US in 1990, he had some chest pain. Upon his return to Australia, he saw a cardiologist and was informed he had a blocked artery.

“Back in those days, they put a little balloon in and would move the gunk away to let the blood through,” says Politis. “In 40 per cent of cases, it built up again, so I made the decision to have a bypass. In those days a bypass was a big deal and people thought I was crazy. It was for peace of mind, and it’s the best thing I ever did.” He still gets a bit of arthritis in his sternum where the surgeons sawed through to operate.

Kerry Packer had bypass surgery that same year, after a massive heart attack. Packer died for seven minutes before he was revived. Both men were operated on by Victor Chang, who was murdered a year later in a botched extortion attempt. Politis has looked after his health ever since his operation, watching what he eats and drinks and exercising regularly. “Greeks, we like food, and we eat too much,” he says. “I try to eat less. I do a lot of yoga, which is good. As you get older, flexibility and circulation is everything. I have a yoga teacher, and we just work out a time, and she Zooms in. We spend half of the time on breathing.”

The mid-1990s ushered in the Super League war, and Politis found himself in the trenches with Packer. Politis had only become chairman of the Roosters in 1993, after orchestrating a coup against Ron Jones and the board. “The club was going backwards,” says Politis. “We made a move against the board and got control. The first day we took out about $1 million worth of costs. Later, a few guys came onto the board, like [James] Packer, Gyngell, Bouris and Peter Newton.” Former stockbroker Peter “Talky” Newton and Bouris are still on the Roosters board.

The Super League war would tear rugby league apart, as the Murdoch and Packer families fought over TV rights to the game for their respective media
empires. The Murdoch family had launched a breakaway competition, Super League, and offered $25 million to the Roosters to entice it to join. A number of other clubs had already defected but Politis refused, as he’d given his word that the Roosters would stay with the Australian Rugby League competition.
“The Murdochs offered him an awful lot of money to get him to switch, and he wouldn’t take it,” says Graham Richardson, a former federal Labor minister who was working for Kerry Packer at the time. “I’ve found that’s not normal in life.”

Phil Gould was coaching the Roosters through the Super League period, and says if Politis and the Roosters had jumped, the ARL’s competition would have collapsed. “Nick said he could never live with himself if it meant the demise of the other ARL clubs. More than anything, though, I’ve always believed his loyalty to life-long friend John Quayle, who ran the game at that point in time, was the major influence on his decision. He would never have been disloyal to his friend.”

It was just after Super League that Politis and Quayle bought into the Hunter Valley farm and set up a vineyard together. In those early days, Quayle was keen to establish their own wine label, but Politis nixed the idea. “John said, ‘When will we have our own brand?’ I said, ‘Mate, we don’t need that. You know when we go next door for a barbecue, and drink their wine and it’s crap, and when they look away we tip it on the grass, and then we tell them how good it is? I can’t have my friends doing that to us!’ ” Nearly 25 years later, the grapes grown at their vineyard, mostly shiraz and chardonnay, are bought by 10 Hunter Valley wineries.

While Politis remained loyal to the ARL during the Super League War, it was a high price to pay. “We sacrificed all that money to do the right thing and be loyal,” he says. “I suppose it comes back in some way.”

Politis has paid for his loyalty at other times in his life. In 2010, his reputation took a hit after he stood by Mark McInnes, the then chief executive of David Jones – and a Roosters board member – who was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. The scandal forced McInnes to resign from David Jones, and a financial settlement was made with the junior publicist who’d accused him of inappropriate behaviour.

McInnes stayed on the Roosters board despite some pressure that he go. At the time, Politis fired back at the critics, saying: “Get one thing straight, at this club we take care of our own. And if one of us is going through a hard time, I can promise you I will be there to support them.”


Politis’ phone buzzes constantly while we chat in his office. The calls become insistent, so after a while he apologises and answers it. It’s Andrew Abdo, the National Rugby League chief executive; they’re discussing a player who joined the Roosters, Joseph Suaalii. Suaalii is an 18-year-old rugby league prodigy, who was discovered at age 12 by the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Roosters’ bitter rivals. Souths put Suaalii on its development program, but he shocked everyone by signing with the Roosters in late 2020 for allegedly less than the $500,000 contract Souths apparently put in front of him.
Politis had gone to meet Suaalii’s family in western Sydney and talked to them about their son’s schooling. He and other board members, together with Roosters’ coach Trent Robinson, also visited the charity ReachOut NSW. Suaalii’s family is involved with ReachOut, which provides food parcels and education and training workshops to those experiencing hardship. “We had this guy that we knew that knew the family and connected us,” explains Politis. “The family are really good people.”

As soon as Politis hangs up from Abdo, his phone starts ringing again.

Matthew Kidman, a fund manager, believes part of Politis’ success is how he works the phone, gathering intelligence. “He’s a collector of information on people, businesses and dealerships, and he gathers it from all different sources,” says Kidman. “He deals in information and that is a powerful thing.” Kidman has been an investor in Eagers Automotive, the ASX-listed car company that Politis has a controlling shareholding in, and has also been a member of the Roosters’ invite-only chairman’s club.

While Kidman calls it intelligence gathering, Sonny Bill Williams, a recently retired star rugby league and union player, prefers to call it hustling, and Williams should know. In 2008, Politis tracked him down in France, where the footballer had fled after having a personal crisis. Williams had quit rugby league and the team he played for, the Canterbury Bulldogs, in breach of his contract. He wanted a fresh start after choosing to become a Muslim, and was trying to get away from rugby league’s party lifestyle. His decision sent shockwaves through the game, and the media was hounding him in France, where he’d gone to play rugby union. Politis called to offer support.

“In some of my darker times he was always there and showed support for me,” says Williams, who’d not played for the Roosters at that stage. “That’s how our relationship started, and it just grew from there. It’s more than just a professional relationship.”

Williams reached a settlement with Canterbury over breaching his contract, and the bill, including his legal fees, tallied close to $1 million. Friends, including boxer Anthony Mundine, helped cover the costs. It was hinted that Politis might have also provided financial support, but this was never confirmed.

Williams eventually returned to Australia in 2013 and played for the Roosters, with the team winning the grand final, one of four premierships the club has won during Politis’ time as chair. After the Roosters’ 2002 win, which ended a 27-year drought for the club, Politis got a tattoo of a rooster on his right arm. He was 61, and didn’t dare tell his mum. (His dad had passed away in 1989.)

“You’ve got to be honest with people, first of all, and you have got to care about people. In business, it’s all about having good employees, and showing a lot of faith in them. It works. It’s the same with a football team.”
Nick Politis
After another stint playing overseas, Williams returned to Australia in 2020. Politis organised toys for Williams’ children to be waiting in the hotel room where the family had to quarantine, and made sure that their meals were halal. “Little gestures like that mean a lot,” says Williams. “It makes you want to succeed in going the extra mile for the individual.” After his return, Williams played a few games for the Roosters before retiring.
Politis says he’s always looked after people, whether in football or the car business. “You’ve got to be honest with people, first of all, and you have got to care about people. In business, it’s all about having good employees, and showing a lot of faith in them. It works. It’s the same with a football team.”

Still, Politis will sack anyone who is lazy, underperforms or repeatedly misbehaves, and the latter happens a lot in football. “A lot of these footballers are young blokes earning $300,000 or $400,000 a year and it goes to their heads,” says Graham Richardson. “Nick’s very good at keeping you on the rails.” But there’s only so much you can do. In 2016, a heavily intoxicated Roosters captain Mitchell Pearce was filmed simulating sex with a woman’s dog after she rejected his advances, and allegedly urinated on her couch and himself. And last year, Roosters captain James Tedesco was fined $10,000 for behaving “in a drunken and disorderly manner” and bringing the game into disrepute after an investigation into claims he shouted “squid games”, in reference to the Netflix Korean TV drama, at a 20-year-old woman of Vietnamese descent outside a pub.

Politis takes a dim view of footballers who drink to excess and do drugs. “I see it as a waste. It’s stupid. We’ve got a pretty clean club. Sometimes you get these superstars and they’ve got issues. It kills a culture of the place and it never works out for you. You always finish up with a problem.”


Matthew Kidman says another reason for Politis’ success is that he hires good executives to run his business operations, which frees him up to invest the time in building relationships and gathering information. Those executives include Dan Ryan, who manages WFM Motors, of which Politis remains executive chairman, and Martin Ward, who was chief executive of Eagers Automotive for 16 years, before retiring in early 2021. Ward remains a consultant to the company.

Politis owns 27 per cent of Eagers, a stake worth just under $1 billion, and is a director. He first bought into the company in 2000, for a total sum of $25 million. He was approached that year by Alan Piper, Eagers’ controlling shareholder, to buy his stake, as Piper was dying of cancer. The men knew each other through the industry and Piper had come through the Ford graduate trainee ranks a few years after Politis.

“He was really supporting someone who was dying of cancer and his family,” says Gyngell. “He bought the shares, it wasn’t a big strategic plan. People come to him because they know how he’s going to act.”

Eagers was underperforming at the time and allegedly being circled by trucking magnate Lindsay Fox and another car dealer, Rick Damelian, who’d already taken a stake in Eagers. A few months later, Politis bought Damelian’s stake.

In 2000, Politis’ wealth was estimated on the BRW Rich List at $110 million. Around that time he bought into Sydney Olympic, the soccer team, helping take them to a premiership. However, his involvement was short-lived and many saw the stake in Olympic as a favour to the Greek community.

Politis had lured Peter Raskopoulos, a former Socceroos captain and small businessman, to manage Sydney Olympic. After they won the premiership in the 2001-02 season, Raskopoulos faxed Politis to say he was stepping down.

“I get a phone call from Nick about half an hour later,” recalls Raskopoulos. “I said, ‘Hello mate, how are you going?’ And he gave me a verbal for three minutes and 49 seconds. I was in a state of shock,” he says, laughing. “I said, ‘Mate it’s got nothing to do with you. I need to go back to the business.’

“He’s giving it to me, and then he hangs up on me. I was having a coffee with my wife. He rang me back after five minutes, and I thought, ‘Oh Jesus Christ, I’m going to cop another verbal,’ and Nick says, ‘Mate, is your health all right?’ He thought I might have some health problems and that’s why I was resigning. I said to him, ‘Mate, my health is fine.’ Then he said to me, ‘Well go and get f...ed,’ and hung up again.”

Raskopoulos stayed on for another season. He remains good friends with Politis.


The investment in Eagers Automotive would transform Politis’ position in the car industry, and over the next two decades the value of his shareholding would grow more than 30 times. Politis and Eagers would drive consolidation in the Australian car industry, undertaking almost 60 acquisitions over those years, including buying big car and trucking groups such as Barloworld, Adtrans and Automotive Holdings Group. There would also be a number of related-party deals with Politis’ private company WFM Motors. “Nick’s good at sniffing out deals,” says Martin Ward. “He’s good at knowing when to press harder and when to do nothing.”
Politis says deals are all about research and not talking too much. “You sit back and listen to who you’re trying to deal with because if you listen long enough, you can work out how to go about it and close the deal.”

When the pandemic hit, it was tough for Eagers, with most of its dealerships shuttering. The company would take $131 million in JobKeeper to save around 1500 staff. But by the end of 2020, car sales had bounced back substantially, boosting the company’s profits. As a result, Eagers and Politis were criticised for taking the government subsidy.

Federal Labor politician Andrew Leigh argued that Eagers could have repaid the subsidy. “For example, take Nick Politis, whose car dealerships raked in $130 million of JobKeeper and saw their profits go up, paying out a dividend worth $17 million to Nick Politis,” he said.

Politis counters by saying, “It was about saving jobs. We didn’t sack 1500 people, we kept them on. It’s not additional profit because during that COVID period who knows how much we lost because of the shutdowns.”

Over the years, Politis has made as much money out of property as selling cars because many car dealerships sit on prime real estate. “His car business, it’s what everyone sees, but he’s probably got a property empire as significant as his car empire,” says David Gyngell. When asked about this, Politis simply says you can never go wrong with property. “Even if you make a bit of a mistake, it corrects itself over time.”

hile Politis has hired good managers in the car industry, which has helped deliver his success, his record has been more patchy with football coaches, who have included Phil Gould, Ricky Stuart and Brad Fittler. He tried to hire rugby league’s super coach, Wayne Bennett, in 2006 but failed. The two men had done a deal, with Bennett to join the Roosters, but Bennett reneged.

“I was disappointed,” says Politis. “We had a meeting on a Saturday at my place and I said to him, ‘Well, what do you want to do with Ricky Stuart as a coach? Should I wait until you’ve finished with the Broncos and announce it then?’ Wayne said, ‘Tell Ricky now.’ So the following Monday I’ve got Ricky down in the coffee shop, and I said, ‘It’s all over,’ and he went bananas. Then four weeks later, Bennett’s backed out and we didn’t have a coach.”
Politis went through several coaches before the Roosters eventually ended up with Trent Robinson, who has been the Roosters coach now for nine years, while Bennett coached South Sydney for the three years up to last year.

Bennett agrees mostly with that version of events, and says if he’d been in Stuart’s shoes he would have wanted to know. He also says there was a clause to the handshake deal. Bennett was coaching the Brisbane Broncos, which had a shot at winning the premiership (they did), and said the deal to coach the Roosters was conditional on it not being announced until the end of the season. If it leaked, Bennett was concerned it would affect how the Broncos played and their premiership chances.

“I knew it hurt Nick enormously. He’s hated me ever since. It was a tough period.”
Wayne Bennett
“I said, ‘If this gets out Nick, I’m not going to come.’ ” Bennett doesn’t know how word of the deal leaked but the day before the NRL preliminary final, a journalist asked him if he was going to coach the Roosters. So Bennett pulled out. “I knew it hurt Nick enormously,” says Bennett now. “He’s hated me ever since. I wanted to go to the Roosters, I wanted to work for him. He’s done great things for rugby league, and I wanted to work for him because he wants to win, and I want to win. It was a really, really tough period. I’m still
disappointed today.”

Politis says he’s never backed out on a deal. “When you shake hands, you can’t do that. That’s when you lose credibility.” He hasn’t spoken to Bennett since.


If old age is about slowing down, then Politis has chosen to ignore it. Last December, he went to Greece to pay his respects to his mother, who died there in 2020, aged 103, and is buried on Kythera. Politis wasn’t able to be there for her funeral because of the pandemic.

Like other super rich octogenarians and nonagenarians such as Rupert Murdoch, Harry Triguboff and Gerry Harvey, Politis still goes into the office every day, and intends to keep working. “You see guys retire and they die a few years later,” he observes. “I don’t know if there’s any connection, but it seems to follow.”

He hasn’t, it seems, lost any of that Henry Ford enthusiasm. “I’m very passionate in what I do. I enjoy it. I love it.”
 

bruce

Contributor
Politis still goes into the office every day, and intends to keep working. “You see guys retire and they die a few years later,” he observes. “I don’t know if there’s any connection, but it seems to follow.”
If you don't use it you lose it.
 

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