Sir Peter H.E, Abeles AC (Ábel Péter) Part 1
|First name||Sir Peter H.E,|
|Last name||Abeles AC (Ábel Péter) Part 1|
|Country of Origin||Hungary|
|Date of Birth||1924|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1949|
|Submitted by||Attila Urmenyhazi|
Sir Peter H. E. Abeles AC (Ábel Péter), entrepreneur businessman, transportation magnate, benefactor (1924-1999)
(Sir) Peter Abeles, was born in Vienna in 1924 into a Hungarian-Jewish family. His father was an affluent metals dealer. When Peter was a little boy his family moved to Hungary to avoid the onslaught on Jewry by rampant fascism. He completed his secondary education in Budapest. With the Nazi Germany invasion of Hungary in 1944, he was sent to a death camp whilst his family managed to flee to Romania. They all survived and reunited but the regime change and gradual communist takeover in devastated post-war Hungary again forced to family out of their homeland. Aged 25, ambitious Peter who had enriched himself with the business acumen of his father, landed in Sydney as a refugee migrant and soon launched into business into the challenging world of corporate takeovers fuelled by success.
His humble beginnings in the new country was door-to-door sale of encyclopaedias and clothing. In his second year with George Rockey, a fellow Hungarian, Abeles founded Alltrans, the trucking company and with two second hand lorries the budding entrepreneurs chased transport contracts, the first one obtained from Broken Hill, a mining town in NSW. Sir Peter’s organizational and business genius was guided by his figures backed by his belief that in a country where distance is a high cost tyranny, there was great opportunity for transport to flourish. It was then authoritatively calculated that 7% was the transport cost fraction in the total cost of goods moved in Australia. By 1967, Alltrans was operating about 500 lorries in Australia and had merged with Thomas National Transport (TNT). In 1968 Abeles was appointed the managing director of the nationwide trucking company. Through the 1970s TNT expanded beyond Australia to United States, Canada, Britain, Brazil and New Zealand with takeovers of, and mergers with, transport and shipping companies.
In 1979 Abeles forged a strategic alliance with media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited to take over in 1980, Ansett Transport Industries then one of the two big airlines in Australia. Both Abeles and Murdoch from then on jointly controlled the airline as Ansett’s joint managing directors until 1992. By mid-1980’s TNT became the second biggest transport empire in the world, operating by road, rail, sea and air. Sir Peter, a major force in Australian industry, influenced the careers of important business and political figures such as the late Kerry Packer (Owner of Australian Consolidated Press) Australia’s richest man at that time, and Bob Hawke ( R.G.J.Hawke, Prime Minister of Australia 1983-1991) in particular. He supported Hawke’s Prices and Incomes Accord and participated in his 1983 National Economic Summit. He formed strong links with the ACTU in respect to the two-airlines agreement of the 1980s. Hawke’s recommendation saw his friend appointed as a director of the Reserve Bank by the then Treasurer Paul Keating in 1984.
Abeles’ position as a close confidant of Hawke aroused suspicion particularly during the 1989 airline strike when Prime Minister Hawke’s action in taking on the pilots’ union enabled both major airlines to enter the deregulated market in a far more competitive position. At the time Australia’s domestic airline pilots through their union, demanded an immediate 30% salary increase which was rejected by the government. It was a prolonged, bitter dispute which the pilots lost as the air force and pilots from overseas were called in to keep the country operating. Their friendship had started in the 1970s when Hawke was a rising star as president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). According to Blanche D’Alpuget, Hawke’s biographer and later his second wife, ‘ Hawke looked upon Abeles as a ‘ father figure’; he found the older man ‘ subtle, sophisticated cosmopolitan, immensely fascinating’.
In 1992 TNT was suffering from debt-ridden investments in Europe and Abeles then retired as its managing director but was later re-elected to its Board. Peter Abeles chaired the Trade Advisory Council, the Australian Cancer Foundation for Medical Research and the Australian Opera Foundation. He also was named ‘Australian of the Year’ by ‘The Australian’ in 1987. In 1991, the NSW Askin’s government recommended his knighthood and he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia, in recognition for services to business and arts. Under his dynamic leadership, his transport business empire at its height spread over more than 60 countries with about 55,000 employees.