May 07, 2012

Churchill & Westfield

I rarely blog about business, but here is an exception.

Like my own parents, Frank Lowy was born in Czechoslovakia. He survived World War II in Hungary and at the age of 15 moved to the Land of Israel where he later fought in the War of Independence.

Lowy moved to Australia in 1952 where he begun building a retail property empire. Today his Westfield Group operates over 100 shopping centres in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Great Britain.

In 2010 Lowy was crowned Australia's Richest Person with an estimated wealth of 5 billion Australian dollars.

I happened to visit Westfield the other night and later heard that Lowy was here in London last month to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

He opened his speech to talk about his two huge shopping centres in the London area. And then he continued ...

"I’m sure you don’t need a lecture about Westfield.

Instead, because I don’t get these opportunities very often, I’d like to talk on a more personal level about my relationship with this country and why it was also so important for me to try to establish a business here.
My determination to be here didn’t start with a business plan. My motive sprang from a more emotional connection with this country which began in my childhood.

Many of you are familiar with my background as a survivor of the Nazi era. Many of my family perished, including my father, and you can imagine the dark days I experienced as a young boy trying to survive with my mother in eastern Europe during the war.
They were dark days indeed. But hope was always kept alive. And one of my most enduring memories was of the hope we drew from this country. As a little boy I remember huddling around a radio, listening to the BBC for news of the Allied advance.

I can still hear the bell of Big Ben tolling in the hour as the news came on. I vividly remember the voice of Winston Churchill rallying this nation, and the rest of the free world, to hang on. To have faith. To keep going."
 It was stirring stuff for a youngster, and even if I didn’t truly understand everything that was going on at the time, the message I took from it has stayed with me throughout my life.

It was a message of hope. And it was proof to me, as a youngster, that there were people, there were nations, out there that cared about what was happening to us, and that help was on the way.
For this reason, I have always had a special regard for England. It is a nation with a confidence and belief in the just cause.
And it has always been willing to back that belief with enormous sacrifice when called upon.

I have forever been grateful for that, as someone who on a very personal level benefited from this country’s leadership during those dark days.

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