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James Packer – a man or a God? · 22 October 2006

James Packer’s lieutenants, and other potential beneficiaries of his wealth and influence, paid public homage and reassured him of their loyalty in the Australian Financial Review on Saturday – AND provided a reference for my forthcoming book with its theme of power and servility in the executive suite!

If John Alexander, Paul O’Sullivan, David Gyngell and Mark Bouris are to be believed, there are no limits to the talents of James Packer. Much the same was said about Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Kemal Ataturk, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

According to Alexander, James’ “grasp of numbers is a sight to behold. He doesn’t forget them and has a capacity to crunch complicated figures instantaneously.” And Bouris says that “he has this quantitative ability second to none and can do complex calculations in his head quicker than most people can use a calculator.” According to O’Sullivan, “James has an inquiring mind represented by an amazing ability to grasp new technologies”.

James is clearly wasted on the board of Qantas. We can only anticipate that he will soon be invited to join the board of NASA. With James as a director, NASA will presumably be able to engage in considerable cost-cutting; who needs expensive computers and analysts when you have the “instant” ability of James to handle the calculations for a flight to Mars.

But James’ contributions to science may not stop there. Give it a couple of years and we will almost certainly learn about James’ contributions in the field of genetics. Presumably evolution means that he is an improvement on his father, because Gyngell tells us that James is a “bigger thinker than his father” and “history will show” him “to be an even better businessman than his father.” Josef Stalin’s secretary, Alexander Poskrebyshev, wrote in an article in Pravda at the time Stalin’s seventieth birthday: “Comrade Stalin, who has been involved for many years in the cultivation and study of citrus culture on the Black Sea coast, has shown himself to be a scientific innovator.” No fruity genes for James – he is himself genetic evolution and technology combined!

James will presumably help those who are less genetically super-charged and have to make do with what they have got, just like Mussolini. Dino Grandi, a lieutenant of Mussolini, wrote to him: “To become ever more one of the new Italians whom you are hammering into shape; that is the aim of my life.”

David Gyngell – James “best mate” – tells us that “James is one of the most strategic, futuristic thinkers that I have ever come across.” The highly qualified Gyngell is backed-up by Alexander, “James has the best strategic brain I have ever seen in business. He has the capacity to see trends before they actually happen, whether it’s the arrival of the online revolution, the globalization of gambling or the long-term challenges to traditional media.” Clearly Gyngell and Alexander feel the same as Giuseppe Bottai, who indicated to Mussolini his infinite “faith in your thought and method”.

In fact, James is clearly a genius, just as were Stalin and Ataturk. Lavrenti Beria wrote his own article for Pravda at the time of Stalin’s seventieth birthday, praising his “utmost clarity of thought” and his “genius”. Celal Bayer – upon his appointment in 1932 as Minister of National Economy – telegraphed Ataturk: “I will work as your idealistic laborer on the radiant road opened by your great genius, which comprehends better than anyone the needs of the people and the country.” Ataturk eventually appointed Celal Bayer his prime minister.

Come to think of it, James’ talents as a “strategic futuristic thinker” suggest that we should quickly get rid of Johnny (if James is not Jim, why should Johnny be John?) Howard and appoint James Prime Minister – and for life! After all, Napoleon got appointed Consul for Life – before progressing to Emperor.

Just imagine James in Canberra! Bouris says that “he doesn’t mince his words, he goes straight to the issues.” The Ministers – the Costellos, the Turnbulls etc – would be lining up to ape Lazar Kaganovich who himself admitted, that “when I go to Stalin, I try not to forget a thing! I so worry every time. I prepare every document in my briefcase and I fill my pockets with cribs like a schoolboy because no one knows what Stalin’s going to ask.” In turn, Stalin helped Kaganovich with his grammar, and in 1931 he expressed his gratitude: “I’ve re-read your letter and realise that I haven’t carried out your directive to master punctuation marks. I’d started but haven’t quite managed it, but I can do it despite my burden of work. I’ll try to have full-stops and commas in future letters.”

Of course, James may be very smart. But is he as smart as claimed? Consider the words of Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s “friend” (best mate), architect, and Armaments Minister, about “power” – and presumably, money: “There is a special trap for every holder of power, whether the director of a company, the head of a state, or the ruler of a dictatorship. His favor is so desirable to his subordinates that they will sue for it by every means possible. Servility becomes endemic among his entourage, who compete among themselves in their show of devotion. This in turn exercises a sway upon the ruler, who becomes corrupted in his turn. The key to the quality of the man in power is how he reacts to this situation.”

Maybe James Packer will believe the words of Alexander, O’Sullivan, Gyngell and Bouris, but he would do well to – and this will depend on his “quality” – to remember a few simple quotes. According to Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, Lavrenti Beria would say to Stalin: “Oh yes, you are so right, absolutely true, how true.” He was, she recalled, “always emphasising that he was devoted to my father and it got through to Stalin that whatever he said, this man supported him”. Lavrenti’s son, Sergo, wrote that he Lazar Kaganovich “was a rather servile creature, not stupid, a good executive (Yes, a good executive!), always ready to anticipate Stalin’s wishes”.

The results are not surprising. Referring to Mussolini, Italo Balbo, a long-time lieutenant said: “If a man is told a hundred times a day that he is a genius, he will eventually believe in his own infallibility”. The same might be said, if he reads too many AFR articles saying almost the same thing. The resulting “cerebral congestion” (in the words of Napoleon’s first secretary, Louis Bourreinne) can lead to fatal mistakes – as an over-confident Napoleon (and later, Hitler) found out when they sought to take-over Russia.

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