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Who knows how history will judge Antony Catalano, the man who was twice fired by the bosses and Fairfax, only to rise again like a Phoenix and pay back in a brilliant way.
Really, after the first time, they should have seen that you can’t keep a great entrepreneur down. And The Cat, as he was known when he dominated the Melbourne social scene on Fairfax’s behalf as their commercial director, is certainly that.
Today, we salute his comeback. He has succeeded in his bid to buy the regional newspaper assets which formerly belonged to Fairfax from new owner Nine.
Nine has announced cash proceeds from the sale are expected to be around $115m, of which just $10m will be paid in 12 months.
Many may snigger that he’s taken a few struggling titles off Nine’s hands. But they would be wrong – and they ignore the Catalano history.
He was marketing director for Fairfax’s The Age , then a rather moribund title, before he was made redundant by the company. The truth was a little different. Catalano was a consummate sales executive working with some dull-witted journalists who just didn’t get where money came from. Letting him go was the worst thing they could have done.
I recall Catalano telling me that he took his large family off for a holiday, but was called back by a group of extremely successful but angry real estate agents who wanted to do something about what they saw as Fairfax’s lack of customer service.
As they met him at a top secret venue, Catalano had a light build moment. In front of him was millions of dollars worth of revenue from eager property sellers. All he needed to do was find a way of liberating it.
His solution was breathtakingly simple and devastatingly effective. He launched Metro Media Publishing in 2010, and The Weekly Review magazine in Fairfax’s most lucrative property areas.
But – and here’s the brilliance – he made his advertisers his shareholders. Those real estate agents had a vested reason to make his magazine bulge with revenue – they would receive a dividend.
One year later, bleeding revenue in the property sector, Fairfax took a 50% stake in his magazine for $35 million. A humiliating move which later proved sensible in that it merged Metro Media’s assets with Fairfax’s Community Newspapers.
Some said Fairfax had basically tasked Catalano to solve the problem he had created in the metro division – the lack of property ads.
Catalano rejoined Fairfax as the CEO of Domain, its online property portal and, along with video streaming operation STAN, seen as the saviour of the company.
But the story doesn’t end there.
In January, 2018, after creating the Domain company into a separate entity on the ASX, Catalano resigned as CEO in circumstances never been completely explained. It appears he and Fairfax chair Nick Falloon had a falling out.
There were claims of a “sexist culture” and poor decision-making, according to a piece in the Fairfax-owned Financial Review headlined “The fall of a party boy“.
Catalano probably took himself off – perhaps to his Byron Bay hotel, Wategos Beach, which he had transformed, or to his flat in Europe. Fairfax had managed to make him a very rich man indeed.
He sniped from the sidelines at the merger of Fairfax and Nine, attempting to thwart the deal. When the regionals came on the market, he had already lined up a battery of investors.
In another astute move, Catalano has a stake in Tomorrow/Media Plus, the agency which Domain’s biggest client has it purchases media for property developers and real estate companies.
The next phase of Catalano’s career should be equally interesting .
He will own, with various investment groups, The Newcastle Herald, The Examiner, The Border Mail and the Illawarra Mercury. It also includes around 130 community-based websites, and agricultural publications such as The Land, Queensland Country Life, and Stock and Land.
When he bought Wategos, the run down boutique hotel once the haunt of Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Gwyneth Paltrow, Keith Richards and Lenny Kravitz, he spent a small fortune making it great again.
Can he do it again with a motley collection of amazing mastheads…and some not so amazing?
He’s proved he’s got the gall and guile. Watch this space.
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