Kerry Matthew Stokes AC (born 13 September 1940) is an Australian businessman. He holds business interests in a diverse range of industries including electronic and print media, property, mining, and construction equipment. He is most widely known as the chairman of the Seven Network, one of the largest broadcasting corporations in Australia. He was awarded Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) in recognition of his contributions to Australian business.
Kerry Stokes was born John Patrick Alford on 13 September 1940 in Melbourne, and was adopted out to Matthew and Irene Stokes. In June 2000, Stokes told the ABC, “My background was very difficult, very hard and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I had lots of different occupations and obviously lots of different experiences. I had some time on the street, and sometimes, work was very difficult. Australia, in that period of time, wasn’t a place where you could actually easily go and get a job, it was difficult, and we went where there was work available”.
Stokes’ first reported job was to install TV antennas in Perth, followed by a sustained period in property development throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He also developed a range of shopping centres in Perth and regional Western Australia with partners Jack Bendat and Kevin Merifield.
His private company, Australian Capital Equity (ACE), is the holding company for Stokes’ interests in a diverse range of Australian and international businesses and ventures covering property, construction, mining and petroleum exploration.
He invested in the Caterpillar franchise in Western Australia (Wigmores Ltd) in 1988, and the company now called WesTrac, has equipment dealer franchises in Western Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and nine provinces across China, with the total number of employees close to 4,000 people, as well as 500 apprentices in Australia.
In 2007, Stokes formed a joint venture with The Carlyle Group to acquire the equipment hire group Coates Hire Ltd from National Hire Ltd (over 50% owned by WesTrac)
Stokes’s commercial interests in the media sector commenced in Western Australia, with the development of the Golden West Network, a regional television network based in Bunbury in partnership with Jack Bendat. In 1979 Stokes acquired Canberra‘s local TV station Seven Canberra, subsequently acquiring Seven Adelaide from Rupert Murdoch and won the TEN licence in Perth, as well as acquiring radio stations in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, through a vehicle called BDC. These assets were sold to Frank Lowy in 1987.
In 1996 Stokes acquired a strategic 19 per cent stake in the Seven Network (now about 43 per cent), a network of commercial free-to-air television stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, as well as regional Queensland & Perth. The platform, as well as a 33 per cent stake in Sky News Australia, now reaches 98 per cent of Australians. Seven has also established a major magazine publishing business, Pacific Magazines, which now accounts for more than 20 per cent of all magazines sold in Australia.
Also under Stokes’s leadership, Seven has established a leading online venture, Yahoo!7, combining Yahoo!‘s search and online capabilities with Seven’s content and cross marketing. This venture now is Australia’s most popular internet portal and the joint venture is driving a range of online and IPTV businesses. Seven is building and acquiring a range of broadband businesses, including wireless broadband group Unwired, VOIP operator Engin and has become the Australian licensee for TiVo, due to be launched in 2008. The group has also established a strategic 20 per cent shareholding in West Australian Newspapers Ltd.
In 2006, Seven Network and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR) created a new joint venture, Seven Media Group, a multi-faceted media company combining a presence in broadcast television, magazine and online applications.
Stokes’s private company, in conjunction with Shanghai People’s Press, is no longer running a business after five years in Shanghai. and a second joint venture in mobile television with the Oriental Pearl Group in Shanghai. Seven held the Australian broadcasting rights for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and provided the broadcast feeds for the swimming and diving events for the rest of the world. The International Olympic Committee awarded Seven the Gold Medal for its TV coverage of the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004.
Stokes has been married four times. His first marriage was to Dorothy “Dot” Ebert, who is the mother of two of his children. In an interview with the Bulletin, it was implied that Stokes was estranged from his first family. His second marriage was to his receptionist, Denise, with whom he had two sons. Denise walked out of the marriage and went overseas, and Stokes became a single father. His third marriage was to Australian television actress Peta Toppano in 1992. This marriage lasted for three years. He is currently married to his fourth wife, Christine Simpson née Parker, who was a newsreader for rival station Channel 10 when they first met.