17 April 2024
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Entrepreneur Lang Walker built dreams and lots of wealth

Peter Switzer
29 January 2024

At the big end of town, everyone knew of Lang Walker as he was a colossus of building and development, which means he was a ‘can do’ entrepreneur. Lang Walker took risks, and via a combination of savviness and good fortune he passed away over the weekend with a legendary list of achievements and wealth of at least $6 billion!

To the small end of town, where most Australians live and operate, Walker affected their lives with massive ‘outside the square’ developments.

The Australian’s Eric Johnston reminded us with the following: “Sydney-based projects like the once untouchable Rhodes Peninsula, and redevelopment of precincts that were at the time deeply unfashionable such as Broadway or King Street Wharf and his flagship project at Parramatta in the west, Walker showed urban renewal could happen in a city that often gets it wrong. Today, Walker Corp is spending billions in Adelaide as part of a revamp of the city’s skyline and pushing into Riverlea residential development across the city, while spending billions on urban redevelopment in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to coincide with the Olympic Games in 2032.”

Walker took on big projects and was smart in how he worked with governments here and overseas to give them what they wanted, while leveraging his relationship with public decision-makers to build his visionary dreams and his own wealth.

The development of Rhodes was a classic case in point. When I was a young man, you wouldn’t go to Rhodes in Sydney unless you were a truck driver, a factory worker or a little bit loopy. However, today, thanks to the work of builders like Walker, it has become a much sought-after residential and retail precinct.

Johnston says “Walker’s own “Kerry Packer” moment was the sale of nearly his entire portfolio to Mirvac in late 2006 for $1.1bn. The first wave of the GFC hit months later when US property major New Century collapsed, sparking off fears of a subprime crisis. The full force of the GFC hit a year later, and this allowed a cashed-up Walker to swoop on distressed developments and property lots.”

Understanding business and economic cycles was one of Walker’s strong suits. That’s how entrepreneurs can make money, but this requires nerves, patience to wait for the recovery after a downturn and good cashflow.

Ironically, one of Walker’s biggest failures was a very public one, which resulted him going public in 1994. But the constant monitoring of shareholders and the media, as well as the expectations of earnings rising each year, didn’t suit this guy’s successful mode of operation. He sold out to Australand and quietly rebuilt his business in the way that worked for him.

And while he might not be here in the future, one of his most recent dream projects is bound to keep his legend alive.

After having such a success with Parramatta Square and the revamping of this iconic centre of Western Sydney, in recent months Walker had a hand in the proposed development of Rosehill Gardens, which is set to be huge development with more than 25,000 houses.

In case you missed it, there’s a $5 billion plan to axe Rosehill racecourse to create a 25,000-home 'mini city'. The NSW government has unveiled a tightly wrapped proposal which could convert this major Sydney racecourse into a new metro station, entertainment precinct and space for up to 25,000 homes, effectively creating a mini city.

This looks like the MO of Lang Walker, who took on projects that often brought out so-called ‘experts’, who often advised him: “That will never work…”

Successful entrepreneurs often have to deal with dream-taking normal people who tell risk takers that their ideas are crazy and will fail. But people like Walker are abnormal people, who are dream-makers.

Sure, he didn’t always have fans and there’d be people who would have lost when he won over the years, but I think this from Tesla’s Elon Musk, when he hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in New York, sums up many high achievers who normal people don’t understand: “I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars on a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill normal dude?”

Walker lived his life ‘outside the square’. As Edward de Bono, the man who gave us the idea of lateral thinking, once told me in an interview I did with him on my then Qantas Talking Business show (the radio programme I started, named  and hosted before Alan Joyce unceremoniously axed me for refusing to take a pay cut me after 10 years of contributing to that now damaged brand — sorry but that always sticks in my gut): “Entrepreneurs and other successful high achievers think outside the square and that’s their competitive advantage.”

Vale Lang Walker.

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© 2006-2021 Switzer. All Rights Reserved. Australian Financial Services Licence Number 286531. 
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