VICTORIAN manager for Inglis, Simon Vivian has been a successful bloodstock agent and auctioneer for many years. He has worked with some of the best in the business including David Coles and Peter Heagney and has travelled around Australia and abroad working in the industry that he loves.
Q: Simon can you tell us a little about your childhood and any early racing influences you had?
A: “I was born and bred and raised in Adelaide, along with a brother and two sisters. I spent the bulk of my life in a suburb called Kensington Gardens, which is in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide. “My father Peter was a very good Australian Rules footballer in the SANFL, he was captain of a successful club called Norwood. He had a great love of sports in general, including racing. It was my maternal grandfather Syd Conlon though who really got him into punting, so they were always mad about that. I got interested in racing in October 1964 when I was seven. It was Caulfield Cup day and my father said to me ‘I will give you £1 if you can pick the winner of this race.’ Well it happened to be the Cup and I selected a horse called Yangtze. This horse was a three year-old who had been bred in South Australia, was trained in South Australia and ridden by a young South Australian apprentice called John Stocker. “Yangtze got the money, and so did I, and it stimulated me from that point on, almost like something flicked a switch. Of course my interest was fuelled further by my father and grandfather firstly because of their punting, but also because Dad had got into ownership then too. He had some success with owning some pretty good horses along the way. “I even had dreams of becoming a jockey, but my chances were ruled out as I continued to grow. At the age of 13 I was in strife! As I am now 6’2”, I well and truly missed the boat there.”
Q: So when you left school, did you go straight into the workforce or go to university?
A: “I did one year of tertiary education to study property valuation, but I didn’t really enjoy that. I had thought it would be a job that would pay a bit of money, but really what is the point if you don’t enjoy it? Irrespective of what the income could have been, I really couldn’t see myself having a future there. “My father at that time had been buying some racehorses in South Australia and had a working relationship with a man called David Coles who ran Coles Bros, a South Australian yearling selling agency. As I had always been passionate about being involved in the industry, my father asked David did he have any positions available. “Back in those days we didn’t have the advantage of having a company like Arion to provide us with pedigrees. We had to research pedigrees by going through the Stud Books and Turf Registers and hand writing each one that appeared in a catalogue. So that obviously required sales companies to have teams of young people who would do all of that research and writing up. I was very lucky that at that point there was a position available, so I commenced work at Coles Bros at the end of 1976. We were working out of an office in Currie Street in the central business district of Adelaide.”
Q: And how long were you working at Coles Bros?
A: “Well around the end of 1979 David ended up leaving Coles Bros (or Dalgety bloodstock, as it was then re-named) and started up a rival company called Australian Breeders Co-operative Society Ltd (otherwise known as ABCOS). Some of us in the pedigree department followed David to ABCOS and I remained with the firm until the mid-part of 1984 when I moved to Perth for two years to manage Goodwood Bloodstock. “In that period I was married to my wife Carleen and went overseas to gain more experience. David Coles kindly granted me leave of absence and I worked for Tattersalls in England in 1980. It was fantastic, just a great period of time. Whilst in Newmarket, however, we learned that Carleen was expecting, so some decisions had to be made. “We were keen not to be there during the latter part of her pregnancy so we returned home and our first child, Adam was born in April 1981. We also have a daughter Sarah, who was born in 1982. Adam is now the CEO of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), which is to do with soccer, not Australian Rules. Sarah is a personal trainer and part-time actress.”
Q: And what made you move back to Adelaide again?
A: “By mid-1986 the kids were four and five years old and I’d always thought that I didn’t want to move them around too much. I hadn’t been planning on living in Perth forever so I thought it was probably the right time to come back to Adelaide and get the kids established in school. My time in Perth was fantastic though and it was one of the highlights of my career. But from a family point of view, we wanted to be back in Adelaide where our extended family were.”
Q: So what was the next career move for Simon Vivian?
A: “I then opened my own private bloodstock agency referred to as Simon Vivian Bloodstock Pty Ltd. I spent a lot of time working in conjunction with Denis Roberts, who was originally one of my first bosses at Coles Bros. He had also gone out on his own and the two of us began working with each other and shared an office. It turned out to be a very successful move. “I was also invited at that time by Tony Fleiter, the general manager of Dalgety Bloodstock (now Inglis) in Melbourne, to come across and auctioneer for them. Dalgety was ultimately bought out by Inglis, who I now work for, and interestingly enough I am now sitting in the same seat where Tony was sitting when he asked me to come and work for them!”
Q: And how did you come to branch out into auctioneering? Was it something you had always thought you would like to do?
A: “I guess when you are a young bloodstock agent you tend to look up to the guys that are doing the auctioneering work and for me the best was my boss David Coles, he was just a fantastic auctioneer. One day he said to the three boys who were in the pedigree department, did we want to have a crack at auctioneering? We all had a bit of a try and I was really the only one who really enjoyed it, so I kept at it.”
Q: So what would be some necessary qualities for a potential auctioneer?
A: “Well the first thing David Coles said to me was ‘you’re a chance at being an auctioneer because you’ve got a voice like a foghorn!’ so I suppose to some degree you might need a voice that’s got some depth to it. But really at the end of the day, the most important thing is you must have a good knowledge of the product you are selling. So obviously you need knowledge of pedigrees, knowledge of racing, knowledge of conformation and also of the client base. It’s something that even after 30years you are still always learning and striving to better yourself. “So much of it is based around awareness of vendors’ needs and requirements, their characters, you also have to be similarly aware of your buyers’ needs and characters. Just an overall knowledge of what’s required by everyone I guess.”
Q: So how did you end up working at Inglis?
A: “Well I worked at Simon Vivian Bloodstock for 10 years, from 1986 to 1996 and then I went to work for Queensland Bloodstock Breeders Sales (QBBS) in Brisbane. I worked there for three years out of the firm’s office in Ascot and then in 1999 I made the move to live in Victoria for the first time. While I was in Brisbane I had kept Simon Vivian Bloodstock Pty Ltd active, so when I returned from Brisbane I came back to work for my own agency again. “I was then also asked at that time by Magic Millions to do some consulting auctioneering work. I said I would, provided I could remain in Victoria, which was agreed to. I was with Magic Millions for three years and it turned out to be very successful. My focus primarily was working with Grant Burns who was the Magic Millions rep in Adelaide and we were basically responsible for the Magic Millions Yearling Sales in Adelaide and it was a very good time for the company during that period. “In 2004 I was approached by Peter Heagney at Inglis in Melbourne to see if I would come and work for the company. That was obviously a situation where I could fully galvanise my working career based in Melbourne where I was living. Peter was another graduate of the David Coles ‘school’, so I had actually worked and sold with Peter on a number of occasions during the past 30 years and so had become close work colleagues and become very close friends. So for me to walk in here and work with Peter, it meant I was also working with one of my closest friends in the industry.”
Q: So with you being in the business of selling racehorses for a number of years, have you ever been involved in ownership of any yourself?
A: “Yes, I’ve been involved in the ownership of a number of horses over the years, nothing outrageously successful. But I had a very small share in a horse called Kenvain, who won an Oakleigh Plate, and also in a good little race mare called Just Polite. She won the Kingston Town Stakes in Sydney at Gr.3 level, they are probably the best ones I’ve been involved with.”
Q: From your own perspective, what is it about the racing industry that you enjoy so much?
A: “Well there are a couple of things I would say here. When it comes to racing, pretty much all men are equal. There’s the opportunity for you or I to race a champion, just as there is for John Magnier or Sheikh Mohammed to race a champion. There’s no proven recipe for anyone to have an advantage in buying that champion. Yes, one person may have more of a financial advantage than the next, but we’ve seen horses such as Takeover Target come from very humble beginnings. On the racetrack I really think that all men are even. “The other part is that when it comes to horse racing (not so much in the breeding industry of course), most of the people involved do not race horses as their primary source of income. So I’ve had the opportunity to meet people like Robert Sangster and Robert Holmes a Court, big businessmen that ordinarily I would never meet. And the same with somebody like a horse trainer, who wouldn’t generally meet someone like Kerry Packer. David Hayes probably wouldn’t have a phone conversation with the Queen if he wasn’t involved in this industry. It just really gives us the chance to speak to people that we normally wouldn’t have any access to, and we are speaking to them about their hobby, their passion. We get to meet such a broad cross-section of people in our community, from those who spend from one or two hundred dollars for a small share in a cheap little horse to the financially elite who spend millions of dollars on the best bred horses available.”
Q: What would be some advice that you could give somebody who was interested in a career in the racing industry?
A: “I would say the first thing would be to decide which part of the industry your passion is with. There really are two distinct areas, which are of course the racing side, where you could get a job working with a race club or Racing Australia or Racing Victoria for example, in an administrative role. You might even want to start off as a stable hand and work your way through to working in the office of a racing establishment, ultimately becoming a racehorse trainer. “The other side of course is the breeding industry, where you could be employed at a stud farm, a sales office, selling stallion nominations or marketing of yearlings for example. When a young person comes to me for advice, I try to determine right from the start where their absolute passion lies and then I encourage them to try and approach people in that area and see what positions are available. You’ve got to be prepared, though, to start at the bottom and work your way up. Do the hard yards and learn as much as you can from those who are successful.” n