We were delighted to have lunch recently at Graduate House with Mr David Williams, the Founder and Chairman of Kidder Williams. David was born in Melbourne after his father, originally from Glasgow, Scotland, moved to Australia following the war and settled in Ferntree Gully. David, therefore, went to Ferntree Gully Primary. “Then when I was finishing Grade 5,” David said, “they built a new primary school right next to where we lived called Fairhills Primary… and so I was in the first class.” David then went to Boronia High (1966–1970) and Wattle Park High (1971–1972) for his secondary school education. He undertook his Master of Economics (1972–1978) at La Trobe University and his PhD research in finance at The University of Sydney (1982–1984) on the topic of co-operatives and their capital structure. That research led him to agricultural cooperatives, which in turn led him to the food industry. Today, David is the Chairman of Kidder Williams, Australia’s leading corporate advisor to the food, agriculture and beverage industries, with 34 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions, capital raising and corporate advisory services. Revisiting Ferntree Gully Primary and Boronia High years later, David remembered how surprised he was to see open fields where the schools used to be. “So… I have no alumni,” he concluded. Having no alumni, he, nevertheless, stresses the importance and necessity of building an alumni.
During his period at the University of Sydney where he taught Finance, the program conducted a survey at the end of each year, asking students about “the number one thing” that they got out of their MBA course. Most students ranked the alumni — the relationships and the networks they built — as the most important part of their course. For MBA programs, David recognises the lack of emphasis in this area: “We all know this but universities and their employees probably don’t do as much to foster it as we should.” Students turn up for their courses, and “we turn up for our job to lecture. That’s it. We give them case studies where they work together, and that’s how you breed a little bit of familiarity.
But we don’t do anything more than that as far as I can see in most of the MBA programs, or for that matter in most jobs.” David agreed with The Graduate Union CEO/Head of College, Dr Kerry Bennett, about the importance of places like Graduate House, where students have a live-in experience, allowing them to build networks they can call on throughout their post degree careers and professional lives while living with other graduates and professionals from all disciplines. “We’ve got to optimise it,” David noted, “and I think the older and the more postgrad people are, the more you need to do it; and the reason is because it is at that level you start to think about how what I’m learning can be applied across disciplines.” Professionally, David made headlines over the years for his role as corporate advisor to many Australian and international businesses, particularly for his role in the Bega Cheese acquisition of the culturallysignificant brand Vegemite from Mondelez International. The success, David noted, came from hard work, something that, he thinks, is sometimes missing among graduates and young professionals. “We’ve got kids that need instant gratification… there is no instant gratification, you’ve got to actually work for things.”
Remembering the early years of his career, David said, “I was the longest working, the hardest-working person in my group. I had a co-worker who had a rigid regime: ‘I leave exactly at 6 o’clock at night in order to catch the 6:15 train’… [so one day] I turned up at 6 and said… I need you to read this… and he said ‘Oh David, ten minutes to 6 — I can’t do it until tomorrow’.”
To David, this sounded like something he might say himself after he had become highly successful. “Well, now, I’m still one of the first in and still one of the last out.” David expands: “What comes through is that it’s not about intelligence — it’s about how much work you put in. It’s about being passionate about something and building your interest from the ground up.” In terms of future endeavors, David is keen to expand his horizons to corporate purchases. In a mergers and acquisitions business, “you see a lot of deals and sometimes my clients have no interest. If so, I can buy them myself and I do. So I have a business that is an advisor company but I also have a business that owns companies… So those things are as much part of my life as ever.” One of the big deals for which David made headlines was buying the Tasmanian Salmon Farmer Tassal Group out of receivership in his own name after which the company’s production soared. Referring to this success, David said, “it went into receivership 12 years ago and I bought it personally out of receivership for 42 million dollars.” The company “was doing six thousand tons of salmon when I bought it, now it’s doing circa 30 thousand tons. Salmon is bigger than every other aquaculture species you can think of: prawns, abalone, barramundi, put them all together, they’ll be doing 10 thousand tons.” David has recently started expanding his expertise in the pharmaceutical area.
He is currently the Chairman of Medical Developments International. Its key product is the Green Whistle which is manufactured with some CSIRO technology and is a medical device which releases the analgesic drug Penthrox when the user inhales. Early last year, the company received positive feedback from the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to sell its product in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Ireland and the rest of the European Union. David would like to take the Green Whistle, with the help of the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO), to people in the Third World where operations are sometimes performed without pain relief. Another medical company David is Chairman of is PolyNovo, a tissue regeneration company which uses NovoSorb Technology for the treatment of burns and surgical wounds. The only competitors for the product in the market are organic products. But “the problem is,” David said, “when you put a biologic on a wound, it sometimes gets complications… We are available at a significantly lower price and with significantly better efficacy.”
No wonder hospitals and surgeons have been very keen to try the product. The company, David excitedly reported, has already supplied its product to “dozens of hospitals in the US and by end of January, it probably should be 60.” The company is also expanding its market around the world and is now supplying South Africa, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. Information technology has not escaped him and he is the largest shareholder of RateMy Agent. This is a real estate agent ranking site now released in the United States, New Zealand and Australia. It was an honour to spend time with David and to learn from this innovative, inspirational and yes, very hard-working business leader who has clearly earned his success. We are very much looking forward to learning more!