THREE-MINUTE BIOGRAPHY: How ‘High-Rise Harry’ Triguboff got Australia looking up

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Malcolm Quekett
The Nightly
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THREE-MINUTE BIOGRAPHY: Harry Triguboff has played arguably the most significant part in getting Sydney — and increasingly, southeastern Australia — to start looking upwards when it comes to property.
THREE-MINUTE BIOGRAPHY: Harry Triguboff has played arguably the most significant part in getting Sydney — and increasingly, southeastern Australia — to start looking upwards when it comes to property. Credit: The Nightly/Supplied

He is known as “High-Rise Harry”.

And Harry Triguboff has played arguably the most significant part in getting Sydney — and increasingly, southeastern Australia — to start looking upwards, not sprawling ever outwards in single-family homes.

His private company, Meriton, established in 1963, has built more than 78,000 apartments and some of the country’s tallest residential towers.

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So it is easy to agree with Meriton that it “spearheaded the apartment revolution”.

His ongoing life’s work has brought Triguboff, 91, Order of Australia recognition and sky-high wealth.

This week the Australian Financial Review’s Rich List had Triguboff sitting in second place, his $26.49b second only to Gina Rinehart.

As recounted by Mark Whittaker in Forbes Australia magazine, Triguboff was born in Dalian, China, in 1933, to Russian Jewish parents.

In 1948 his parents sent him and his brother to Sydney, and Triguboff enrolled at Scots College, aged 14.

He went on to graduate from Leeds University with a degree in textile engineering and worked in Israel and South Africa, before returning to Australia in 1960.

He took out Australian citizenship and after a friend suggested they build apartments, they bought a block of land in inner-Sydney Tempe for £3400.

“I found a builder, but he was drunk,” Triguboff told the magazine. He sacked the builder and brought in brickie who stayed with Triguboff for 40 years.

The Tempe units sold for £25,500. The path was set.

Harry Triguboff, founder and managing director of Meriton Pty, poses for a photograph in Sydney, Australia, on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. Triguboff is remarkably calm about Australia's worst real estate slump in a generation considering he's got more at stake than perhaps anyone on the planet. The developer plans to push on with expansion, even as the Sydney property market slides deeper into the doldrums. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg
Harry Triguboff, founder and managing director of Meriton Pty in 2019. Credit: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

In 1968 his biggest project to date, 18 apartments in Meriton Street, Gladesville, continued the upward trajectory and gave Triguboff his company’s name.

The cement that held it all together was one word. Loyalty.

Whittaker wrote of Triguboff’s belief it was more important to be on good terms with contractors than prime ministers.

So the loyalty he showed his team through offering steady work and extra little touches like invitations to his birthday parties, had been repaid in spades.

And Triguboff’s own work ethic has clearly been the bedrock.

Of course, there were setbacks, including an ill-fated float on the Sydney stock exchange in 1969 before he bought back Meriton four years later.

But Triguboff insisted his early ambitions were modest.

His rivals wanted to “grow too fast,” he told Whittaker. “My blocks were very small. Others were building bigger ones.

“Then I caught up. Then I left them behind. I just grew naturally . . . made another $10,000, another $20,000, another $100,000, a million, $10 million.

“I had more money so I grew.”

And grew. And grew.

Triguboff embraced the idea of renting out apartments if he couldn’t get the sale price he wanted, and also branched into serviced apartments, leasing and property management services and luxury hotel accommodation.

A profile on the site The Asian Executive says Meriton has a significant presence in Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast.

“Meriton’s success can be attributed to its ability to quickly identify and respond to market demand,” the site says.

And then there is Triguboff’s confidence in his own decisions. “I don’t compromise when I am sure that I am right,” he told Whittaker.

In February he wrote in The Australian that councils and planning authorities — with NSW at the forefront of his concerns — had to listen to developers in order to address the housing crisis.

“When authorities rezone land, they must ensure that profit can be made,” he wrote.

“Authorities must stop being arrogant and must understand the market.

“Laws have to be changed very often because conditions change. When making rules and deciding on density, profits must be protected,” Triguboff wrote.

“Our developers are going broke more than anyone else. They can’t all be dumb. So I believe authorities must consult with developers, otherwise, we will never catch up with demand.”

Harry Triguboff, chief executive officer of Meriton Pty, in Sydney, in 2010.
Harry Triguboff, chief executive officer of Meriton Pty, in Sydney, in 2010. Credit: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg

In mid-May, he zoned in on the Reserve Bank.

He told The Australian: “Holding the interest rates high stops production, and does not succeed in lowering inflation so far.”

It was as if he knew what was coming. On Wednesday new data showed that inflation in the year to April was 3.6 per cent, higher than the 3.5 per cent recorded in March.

And on the hot issue of migration. “Many countries have residents who would be only too happy to come,” he told The Australian.

Many were well-educated and used to hard work.

Just like Harry.

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