13 January, 2012

Is he a dork or a millionaire businessman?

Melbourne Herald Sun, January 13, 2012

A quote from author Colleen McCullough caught my eye, about her willingness to express unfashionable opinions: "I like Prince Charles. I don't care if the world thinks he's a dork. I don't care.''

Exactly my thoughts, I agreed. While many in the media enjoy making fun of him, I find myself approving a lot of his opinions on conservation, sustainable food production, and the hideousness of so many modern buildings. If I were a gardener I'd probably talk to my tomatoes too.

So is he a twerp? I decided to take a closer look. What I found was a very successful CEO who works harder than most businessmen I know of, and then gives much of his income away.

Although I'm a republican, I must say that Charles gets a raw deal in the media. Firstly, all the talk about how many millions he costs the British public purse.

The money comes mostly from his inheritance, the Duchy of Cornwall estate. The income is his, as bequeathed by Edward III in 1337 to each monarch's Prince of Wales, but he is not allowed to touch the capital.

However he manages the billion-dollar business, generating about $26 million a year. "The Firm" (as the Royal Family calls itself) claim that he has doubled its capital value in the past decade.

The income comes from those famous organic farms, of course, but also from large numbers of rented farms, properties and commercial buildings.

Incidentally they have a very nice range of holiday cottages in England's south-west decorated in the very best Country Life chic, at around $1000 a week for a four-sleeper. Better price than most hotels.

There's a range of foods called Duchy Originals from Waitrose that sells the estate's organic products through supermarkets, and exports as far as Australia. And there is a fat investments portfolio to be managed.

But this isn't his day job. He spends much of his time tearing around the country attending meetings and opening bridges (639 engagements last year. Doesn't that make your eyes glaze?) And 73 of them were overseas, as he buzzes around the world spruiking British products and culture.

Much of this work is done at the request of the UK government and foreign ministry, so you can sympathise with his expecting them to cover the air fares and accommodation.

He helped to raise $180 million for charities, including sizable donations from his businesses.

On top of this he also funds part of the income for sons William and Harry, and now his new daughter-in-law. Luckily they have their own jobs to help out.

He pays tax like the rest of us - $6 million last year. Of course, like any businessman he has regular arguments with the taxman, and in his case Parliament, about what is deductible and what isn't.

Then there is aforementioned son and daughter-in-law. Like any father, last year's wedding cost him a fortune. Though fortunately his own mum and dad, and Kate's, paid most of the costs.

Not the police and marching bands, mind, they came out of the public purse. I remember musing at the time that if they had charged for worldwide TV rights like the Olympics, they would have come out in profit. Considerably.

Meanwhile William and Kate are getting themselves ready to take over the family business, practising their fixed smiles and staying awake. Kate has turned into a godsend for British fashion designers. When she bought a $50 skirt at Topshop, the chain sold out by the next day. Now that’s marketing power.



Colin Pearce said...

Nicely put and well researched.

Winston Marsh said...

I agree whole heartedly with you Ray… I reckon he gets a raw deal. His role is a tough one and he does it well.
Good read as always Ray!
Have a f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c day… Winno