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'A good boss' -

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(generated from captions) but James will come into his own. Finance editor Emma Alberici with that report. When it came to his media interests Kerry Packer was both demonized and lionized. His bid for the Fairfax Newspaper Group in 1991 provoked strong protests. On the other hand, the man who employed some of the top names in Australian journalism was widely regarded as a good boss and as someone who did not seek to put his personal editorial stamp on his publications. One former senior executive who can attest to that is Trevor Sykes. He worked for Kerry Packer for 18 years and edited both the 'Bulletin' magazine and 'Australian Business'. One of the country's most respected business correspondents, in recent years Trevor Sykes has been a senior writer with the Australian Financial Review. I spoke to him earlier this evening from Adelaide. Trevor Sykes, you worked for Kerry Packer for nearly 20 years in senior editorial positions. How will you remember him and particularly how do you see his place in Australian corporate history? I remember a big bear of a man who was prone to quite sudden mood swings, who at his inspired best could really move mountains and I have great affection for him. He was always very good to me and I enjoyed working there. He was like a feudal king running his own empire. You could get your head chopped off but you could also get a bag of gold. It was always very exhilarating to work for Kerry, I found. What about the way he died? He died at home. Do you think that was something perhaps he wanted to have control over? Do you want to speculate on that?

I think we have to presume that he accepted his passing because he didn't go to a hospital and in the past he'd spent vast sums of money staying alive. Instead, he went to his home. He gathered his family around him. He passed quietly, and he of all people knew there was nothing on the other side because I was in the gym one day when he was asked did the angels come down with their wings to get him the time his heart stopped on the Warwick Farm race track. And he said, "No, son, there was nothing there." He had a great inheritance, of course, from his father. But to what extent do you think he played it very differently from Sir Frank Packer, both in the way he used his media power

and the way he ran his businesses? Well, they both used power but Kerry's wasn't used so much in the media. To backtrack a shade, what he inherited from Frank Packer was the 'Women's Weekly' and some other magazines, very profitable, the 'Daily Telegraph', which was used quite blatantly and ruthlessly by Frank Packer as a political weapon and Channel Nine. Channel Nine, being a broad-spectrum television after the widest possible audience, has never been overtly political, as have none of the commercial stations in Australia. When you look at the magazine stable that Kerry inherited, the only ones with any political clout around worth mentioning would be 'The Bulletin' these days and that really - while it tries to carry some weight, it's not a huge factor, especially when you compare it with, say, the daily publications of Rupert Murdoch. But Kerry always punched more than his weight down in Canberra. He didn't use his media very much in an overt political fashion.

I think the reason that they gave into him so often down in Canberra was they didn't want him coming through the door and thumping on their desk. He was really quite fearsome when he was upset and up close and personal. Did you ever see him in fearsome mode? I did indeed. Luckily, it wasn't directed at me. I copped some enfilade fire from time to time,

but by and large, over 12 years of editing his most influential political and financial publications, for some reason or other he was always fairly light on me.

Now, he did of course have this reputation as a bit of a bully, but is that only part of the story? Well, it is only part of the story. As I said, it was a feudal kingdom. You could get treated either way. Fellas like Sam Chisolm who stayed there and argued with him had a very long life with Kerry Packer. If he sensed weakness, though, or that you didn't know what you were talking about, you were for the door. So you couldn't put up a sloppy argument to him?

Never. For instance, he didn't drink; he didn't mind, though, if his executives drank. But drinking was no excuse if you didn't know all the numbers connected with your publication or your TV station. That was inexcusable. Now, this is interesting, isn't it?

He's regarded as one of the - or will be regarded as one of the shrewdest of operators in this period of Australian history, yet he grew up, he was dyslexic and, because of that, not a reader, yet was considered as someone who as masterful in terms of detail. How did he do all that? I think he had an excellent memory. He was certainly very good at mental arithmetic.

I found myself in many a mental arithmetic joust with him. He didn't read much on the printed page.

If you didn't want Kerry to read something, you wrote more than a one-page memo. Did you try that a couple of times? Once or twice.

I pretty soon learned not to, though, because he'd put it down after 10 seconds and ask me the most direct question that I hadn't thought of. And you'd better have an answer! And you'd better have an answer real quick too and sound confident about it. In terms of the PBL empire, as important as the magazine group and other areas have been,

it was always Channel Nine, wasn't it, which was THE focus for Kerry Packer. Why did he concentrate on that as he did? He was a child of the television era. He grew up with it. He understood the medium very well. He identified with what the viewers wanted. That doesn't mean, by the way, necessarily playing down to them. '60 Minutes' was a high-quality program when he brought it to Australia. He always sensed what the public would want and he was much better at it than half the analysts and half the pollsters around the place. He certainly had very strong ideas about programming. Ask anyone who was ever involved in Channel Nine.

To come back to Kerry Packer and the way he approached businesses - one comment was made to me today that I thought was fascinating, a contrast between, for instance, Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch where Murdoch, it's said, almost bets the company

every day of his working life. Kerry Packer, the great gambler, in fact had a pretty conservative approach to running the businesses. Do you think that's right? That is dead correct. Whoever said that was quite shrewd. Kerry would never take the real big chance; he bet the farm very rarely. I think the closest he came to it might have been his gambling on the foreign exchange markets, but even then he should have been fairly well covered, whereas Rupert several times has really bet the farm on the next generation of satellites, the next generation of media or content or whatever. Rupert has been a real media gambler. Why do you think Kerry Packer's focus stayed on the domestic scene - he wasn't that interested in expanding into a global media empire as Rupert Murdoch has done? Kerry Packer toyed with going overseas a few times, notably when he made a couple of bids for companies in the UK. Also, he toyed with the cinema industry. But eventually he decided it was more profitable to stay at home where he knew what he was doing

and he was very familiar with the players and, by the way, where he had huge political clout. Of course, the question for now is the extent to which James Packer can fill his father's boots and, of course, the year has ended for the Packer family not that happily with the whole One.Tel disaster being aired in court. How well prepared, do you think, is James Packer and has he learned from the One.Tel disaster? James has actually had a better grooming to take over this job than Kerry did because Kerry was regarded as the larrikin son of Sir Frank

for quite a long time and the person who was groomed to take over was his brother Clyde. Clyde then dropped out only a couple of years before Frank died

and suddenly Kerry had to take over the reins. James has had a longer grooming and a better grooming than Kerry did who had very few mentors.

I think he's in good shape, and as for the One.Tel thing, well, if James didn't learn his lessons from One.Tel, he never will. I think he did learn them, because it really burned him, that one.

I don't think he's going to make a mistake anything like that again in the future. That grooming that you were talking about there, the better grooming that you feel that James has had, do you think that's because, by all accounts, there's been a much warmer relationship

between Kerry Packer and his son than there ever was between Sir Frank and his sons?

I think that's certainly a big part of it.

I've no doubt Kerry barked at James once or twice, but nothing compared to the way that Frank handled both Kerry and Clyde. He was a bit of a monster. James has been brought up and there has been a very gradual, over the years, transfer of more and more responsibility on to James. He should by now be ready to carry the full weight. He's only a few years younger, I think, than Kerry was when he took over. Trevor Sykes, for your time tonight, thank you very much indeed. Delighted, Maxine.