The founding editor of BRW and now Associate Editor of Business Spectator, Robert Gottliebsen has been a part of the media industry in Australia for more than 50 years.
Gottliebsen’s first job in journalism was at The Herald, which he joined in 1959. He had just completed Year 12 when he went to The Herald and Weekly Times to ask for a job. “Most people joined journalism in Year 10. I had Year 12 and almost felt over-educated,” he recalls.
He started as a general reporter but soon discovered he enjoyed finance reporting and had an aptitude for it. He has specialised in business journalism ever since.
Early in his career he was constantly on the move. “I basically had a ‘For Sale’ sign on me in those early days,” he admits. The Age liked his work at The Herald and recruited him. He later left The Age and joined The Financial Times, a weekly business newspaper started by Sir Frank Packer which had the misfortune to appear on news-stands just as the ‘60s slump hit. It soon folded. From there, Gottliebsen moved to Sydney and The Sydney Morning Herald for two years before returning to Melbourne in 1964 to join The Financial Review.
At The Financial Review he started the Chanticleer column which became an Australian business institution. “It was the Chanticleer column that really caused my career to take off. It was the first time a column of that sort had been started in Australia. It also helped The Financial Review take off,” Gottliebsen says. He won the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year award for excellence in business journalism, in particular his coverage of the Gollin collapse, in 1977.
After six years on the column, Gottliebsen decided he wanted to do something different. That opportunity arose in the form of BRW magazine, which he founded for Fairfax in 1981 after the company decided to take on Sir Frank Packer’s second attempt at a business magazine. It was a tough battle – a “fight to the death”, as Gottliebsen puts it – but one that BRW won.
“Once I started BRW I was also running the show, so there were no awards after that,” he quips.
After Fairfax noticed that Gottliebsen could launch a successful magazine, he started other financial publications, including Personal Investment and Shares Magazine. BRW Group continued to grow and recruited many journalists who became household names, including David Koch and Ross Greenwood.
Unlike most titles which were based in Sydney, BRW had its headquarters in Melbourne, giving local journalists the opportunity to reach a national – and sometimes international - audience.
As for his biggest success, Gottliebsen believes Business Spectator, which business writer Alan Kohler convinced him to join after its formation in 2007, beats even BRW. “There’s no doubt that BRW was a fabulous success for me, but with Business Spectator and The Eureka Report, we’re pioneering something very new that beats all the excitement of BRW,” Gottliebsen says.
“I’ve worked all my life in either newspapers or magazines, as well as in radio and television. But this communications system beats the lot of them. You can communicate in real time.
“And the flexibility - I write on trains, in doctors’ surgeries. It’s so much more efficient. You have deadlines but they are flexible. You publish when you want to publish. It’s a magnificent medium to communicate business information.
“I thank Alan Kohler almost every day for starting this up, giving me the chance to have a really exciting time in the final years of my journalistic career.”