From a hobo childhood in the outback to Monaco millionaire, by his early 30s this private investor and entrepreneur was earning a seven-figure sum on the trading floor before being head-hunted for a secretive hedge-fund based in Bermuda. His financial success enabled him to retire to Monaco, at the enviable young age of just 34. He went on to dabble in further projects and became a household name after starring as an investor in Dragons’ Den, backing Levi Roots and his now famous Reggae Reggae Sauce.
Currently a member of the Business Review Weekly ‘Rich 200’ list (the 200 wealthiest Australians), Richard Farleigh talks to Angela West about his business successes, failures, tips and destinations.
From ‘Backward Child’ to Chess Champ
At 10, he wanted to be a bushranger, “A kind of Aussie Robin Hood”, at 20 “an academic”, at 30 “a master of the universe hedge fund manager… Oh, and at 15, a religious minister!” he recalls.
Born in the country town of Kyabram, in the state of Victoria in 1960, Richard Buckland Smith (his middle name a nod to ancestors traced back to the infamous Rum Corps rebellion) was one of 11 siblings. He never knew what it was like to have a proper home with his natural family, who travelled around the countryside in an old truck, the children exposed to the elements except when they made camp and sheltered in a tent.
His father, a shearer/seasonal labourer/opal miner, was a violent alcoholic and Richard’s first memory of him was one of ‘fear’. Before he was born, a baby sister had died after drinking bad water from a river. When he was two, all of the children were taken into care and separated. Shortly afterwards, Richard was fostered by Marjorie and Keith Farleigh from Sydney’s southwestern suburbs. They were initially to look after him for a few months until his parents reclaimed him, but Richard succumbed to a bad bout of measles, during which one of his eyes ‘turned’, forcing him to wear a patch. Confined to a darkened room with daily doctor visits, it needed two operations to correct it, by which time he was five.
Now at school, Marjorie decided this fragile little boy needed her and would be staying. Richard’s relationship with his foster father, however, was never close and there was a brief, tense reunion with his biological parents when he was four but it wasn’t until adulthood that he made contact with his other siblings. His mother died in the 1990s and he lost track of his father.
His timidity, low self-esteem and unwillingness to speak was misinterpreted as an indication of being ‘backward’, and Richard was placed in the lowest class at kindergarten. At the age of eight, however, he was thrown a lifeline when his primary school teacher spotted his aptitude in mathematics and recognised his potential.