Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia)

The Magnate in a Blue Work Shirt; Owen Jacques Meets a Man Who Keeps Life Simple

Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia)

The Magnate in a Blue Work Shirt; Owen Jacques Meets a Man Who Keeps Life Simple

Article excerpt

JOHN Wagner talks as though he runs a small town family business.

He rarely uses corporate jargon and describes himself as "casual" while saying he prefers his blue work shirt over a suit.

His clarity and straight-talking nature may be one of the reasons he sits as board chairman for Wagners -- an international building materials firm operating out of Toowoomba.

It employs 800 people, and operates in 20 countries. It is an empire overseen from regional Queensland.

Wagners' long-standing success landed in the national headlines when the board -- including John and his brothers Neill, Denis and Joe -- agreed to fund and build the new Brisbane West Wellcamp airport for Toowoomba.

Australia hasn't had a new airport in 50 years.

Wellcamp is also the name of the company's business park, a 500ha precinct surrounding the new runway.

In 2014, the Wagner family was ranked the 16th richest in the country, worth an estimated $827 million by BRW.

In Toowoomba, it is no secret that John is a key cog in Wagner's enormous corporate machine and the town's most powerful dynasty.

On keeping kids grounded

John has four grown up children -- aged 23, 22, 21 and 20.

While all were given a good education, he said they were not allowed to squander their days enjoying idle luxuries.

They know the value of a dollar, he said.

"The sort of things we did was make them pay for phones and their own cars. We wouldn't subsidise their social lives.

"On school holidays they all had one or two jobs.

"I think that's been a good way to bring them up.

"We're a pretty simple sort of people, actually."

These "simple sort of people" -- John and his three brothers -- sat around a table in April, 2012, and agreed to develop Brisbane West Wellcamp.

Reaching for the skies

Just 31 months after family and the board decided unanimously on the project -- worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" -- a QantasLink flight from Sydney landed on the 2.87km runway.

"We have been very vocal advocates that Toowoomba needed a decent airport to give us connectivity," John said.

"To be able to operate an international business here in Toowoomba is quite difficult without an airport. …

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