Kerry Matthew Stokes AC, born John Patrick Alford on 13 September 1940, is an Australian businessman. He holds business interests in a diverse range of industries including electronic and print media, property, mining, and construction equipment. He is most widely known as the chairman of the Seven Network, one of the largest broadcast repeating corporations in Australia. He was awarded Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) in recognition of his contributions to Australian business.
John Patrick Alford was born in Melbourne, Australia and was adopted by Matthew and Irene Stokes. In June 2000, Stokes told the ABC, "My background was very difficult, very hard and I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I had lots of different occupations and obviously lots of different experiences. I had some time on the street, and sometimes, work was very difficult. Australia, in that period of time, wasn't a place where you could actually easily go and get a job, it was difficult, and we went where there was work available".
Stokes' first reported job was to install TV antennas in Perth, followed by a sustained period in property development throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He also developed a range of shopping centres in Perth and regional Western Australia with partners Jack Bendat and Kevin Merifield.
His private company, Australian Capital Equity (ACE), is the holding company for Stokes' interests in a diverse range of Australian and international businesses and ventures covering property, construction, mining and petroleum exploration.
He invested in the Caterpillar franchise in Western Australia (Wigmores Ltd) in 1988, and the company now called WesTrac has equipment dealer franchises in Western Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and nine provinces across China, with the total number of employees close to 4,000 people, as well as 500 apprentices in Australia.
Stokes has always had a keen interest in the pastoral industry and acquired the 4,047 square kilometres (1,563 sq mi) Napier Downs station stocked with 20,000 head of Red Brahman cattle from Peter Leutenegger in 2015 for an estimated A$23 million to A$40 million.
Stokes's commercial interests in the media sector commenced in Western Australia, with the development of the Golden West Network, a regional television network based in Bunbury in partnership with Jack Bendat. In 1979 Stokes acquired Canberra's local TV station Seven Canberra, subsequently acquiring Seven Adelaide from Rupert Murdoch and won the TEN licence in Perth, as well as acquiring radio stations in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, through a vehicle called BDC. These assets were sold to Frank Lowy in 1987.
In 1996 Stokes acquired a strategic 19 per cent stake in the Seven Network (now about 43 per cent), a network of commercial free-to-air television stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, as well as regional Queensland & Perth. The platform, as well as a 33 per cent stake in Sky News Australia, now reaches 98 per cent of Australians. Seven has also established a major magazine publishing business, Pacific Magazines, which now accounts for more than 20 per cent of all magazines sold in Australia.
Also under Stokes's leadership, Seven has established a leading online venture, Yahoo!7, combining Yahoo!'s search and online capabilities with Seven's content and cross marketing. This venture now is Australia's most popular internet portal and the joint venture is driving a range of online and IPTV businesses. Seven built and acquired several broadband businesses, including wireless broadband group Unwired (sold to Optus, now defunct), VOIP operator Engin (now an independent business) and was the Australian licensee for TiVo, launched in 2008 and abandoned in 2014.
In 2006, Seven Network and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR) created a new joint venture, Seven Media Group, a multi-faceted media company combining a presence in broadcast television, magazine and online applications. West Australian Newspapers Ltd. merged with Seven to form Seven West Media in 2011.
Stokes's private company, in conjunction with Shanghai People's Press, is no longer running a business after five years in Shanghai. and a second joint venture in mobile television with the Oriental Pearl Group in Shanghai. Seven held the Australian broadcasting rights for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and provided the broadcast feeds for the swimming and diving events for the rest of the world. The International Olympic Committee awarded Seven the Gold Medal for its TV coverage of the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004.
Stokes has been married four times. His first marriage was to Dorothy "Dot" Ebert, who is the mother of two of his children. In an interview with the Bulletin, it was implied that Stokes was estranged from his first family. His second marriage was to his receptionist, Denise, with whom he had two sons. Denise walked out of the marriage and went overseas, and Stokes became a single father. His third marriage was to Australian television actress Peta Toppano in 1992. This marriage lasted for three years. He is currently married to his fourth wife, Christine Simpson née Parker, who was a newsreader for rival station Channel 10 when they first met. He has three grandchildren, Bennett, Amelià, and Andrew Lukas Jack all fathered by son, Russell.
In 1995 Stokes was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for service to business and commerce to the arts and to the community. In 2008 Stokes was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for service to business and commerce through strategic leadership and promotion of corporate social responsibility, to the arts through executive roles and philanthropy, and to the community, particularly through contributions to organisations supporting youth. His passionate interest in art coincides with his long association with the National Gallery of Australia, where he served as chairman for several years and has made multimillion-dollar donations.
He has also been awarded the Rotary Paul Harris Fellow Award by Rotary International and holds a life membership of the Returned and Services League of Australia, on whose behalf Stokes has acquired three Victoria Crosses, as well as other medals. These medals have been added to the collection of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. He now sits on the council of the War Memorial.
In November 2012, Stokes was named Western Australia’s Australian of the Year for his extensive philanthropic contributions to Australian society. In 1994, Stokes delivered the Boyer Lectures, a series of five lectures broadcast annually on ABC radio. His series was entitled "Advance Australia Where?" on the topic of the Information Superhighway. He delivered the Andrew Olle Media Lecture in October 2001.
Stokes has taken an active role in preserving Australian ownership of significant military heritage; he has now purchased three Australian Victoria Cross medal sets, and a George Cross medal set. Stokes has purchased all four sets via auction from Bonhams & Goodman of Sydney, Australia. The first was the VC medal set of Captain Alfred John Shout, paying a world record price of A$1.2 million on 24 July 2006. In the same auction, he purchased the GC medal set of Lieutenant Commander George Gosse for A$180,000. On 28 November of the same year, Stokes purchased the VC set of Lance Corporal Bernard Gordon for A$478,000. He donated all three sets to the Australian War Memorial.
On 20 May 2008, Stokes, in conjunction with the South Australian Government, purchased the Victoria Cross medal set of Major Peter Badcoe for A$480,000. The Badcoe medals were on public display in the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, and on tour in South Australia, for twelve months before going on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.