Greetings Barefooters! My name’s John Swift, but you can call me Swifty (everybody else does).
I’m writing the Barefoot column this week, but don’t confuse me with some novice.
I’ve appeared in this newspaper before. Many years ago I was the focus of a feature article where I was described as (among other things) a colourful businessman.
Then, about 10 years ago, after a disagreement with the Tax Office, the High Court and a Greek concreter named Con, I decided to take a permanent holiday in Majorca, with my devilishly young girlfriend, Candy.
So there I was, sunning myself and eating olives when Scott called and asked whether I would like to be the guest Barefooter this week.
I jumped at the chance. I want to warn you all not to make my mistakes.
Not wanting to brag, but I was running Nigerian scams before the Nigerians (although hats off to them for really embracing technology).
I’ve done penny stock pump-and-dumps, provided payday lending, fixed dishlicker races, and made a fortune through mail order rackets.
In short, the old Swifty has a skill for sorting suckers from their dough.
Icons of the 80s and 90s
Yet one of the great disappointments of my life is that I never took my god-given gifts to the highest level. My life is one of wasted opportunity. Let me explain.
In the 1980s, when I was a diamond in Amway (and Candy was but a twinkle in her old man’s eye), I marvelled at the masters of the day, Chris Skase and Alan Bond, who were making millions looting companies while their victims (OK, shareholders) thought they were absolute geniuses.
It was too good. I could have done that. But sadly, I decided to play it safe and continued making meat-and-potatoes money from various multi-level marketing scams.
Then in the early 1990s, Paul Keating rang the bell. Superannuation. It was a calling card for every crook in town: billions of dollars would be tied up in accounts that no one understood or even really cared about till they were too old to work!
Fund managers get in
In the early days no one knew what they were doing, so the old Swifty did some consulting at the time to a bunch of bozos who called themselves fund managers.
I explained how I ran my jobs. The key is not to get too greedy. You’ve got to make sure you pay everyone off down the line, then it’s happy days, I told the pencilheads. They took my advice. But then they got greedy.
Financial engineers take the stage
By the start of the new millennium a bunch of bright young sparks had taken the looting lessons from the ’80s and combined them with the fees that had made them rich since super started.
They called themselves financial engineers and they sailed the equity seas in a vessel that came to be known as pirate equity. The idea was as breathtakingly simple as it was profitable: borrow billions, buy assets, extract hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, and pay yourself huge bonuses.
Then, just like in the ’80s, they either flicked the company to another sharpie (who did a similar deal) or left the company to eventually buckle under the weight of its debt. Not that it mattered. By that time the boys had already banked their fees.
Babcock & Brown, Allco and various hedge funds were making a fortune. These cats were so good they had people lining up to part with their money.
The demand was so great they created share market listed cashboxes (in other words, we don’t know where we’re going to invest your money, but we still want it).
Once again they were hailed as geniuses; they were on the front covers of magazines, bought the most expensive homes in Sydney, and at the height of the madness tried to tie our kangaroo down, sport.
Wrong side of the law
My biggest mistake was that I was on the wrong side of the law. Don’t confuse things: old Swifty is talking revenue rather than retribution. The petty scams and swindles I did over a lifetime were nothing compared to the loot I could have made pulling on a pinstripe suit for a few years.
Now these guys might have been big toads in our small swamp in Australia, but they were small fry compared to what America has produced in that time. After all, these were the guys who gave us Bernie, the $US50 billion man who, for his sins, is getting three square meals a day and plenty of sunshine, and someone will no doubt make a movie out of him.
Bernie may have pulled in a big bag, but Swifty gives Best on Ground to the financial wizards at AIG, who placed financial bets that took the world to the edge of Armageddon, ploughed their way through $US180 billion in taxpayers’ funds, and still managed to get $US165 million in bonuses for their handiwork.
Of course, taxpayers are outraged, as they always are when the penny – or the billions – finally drops.
But AIG was right to pay these guys big bucks to retain them, because if it didn’t they might be headhunted somewhere else.
But who would employ someone who has burnt through billions and paid themselves millions?
Hmmmm. I know one geezer who’s sitting in Majorca looking to recruit a top-class team, and I think these guys would be star recruits. With their skills and my experience, we can start our pre-season training for the next scam!
But you can be smarter – check out Scott’s money management plan for more.
Tread your own path!