Peter Abeles - Biography

Sir Peter Emil Herbert Abeles, AC (25 April 1924 – 25 June 1999) was an Australian transportation magnate. A refugee from Hungary, he became one of the most powerful businessmen in Australia, and was knighted in 1972.


Abeles was born in Vienna, in Austria, but grew up in Budapest. When Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, Abeles, who was Jewish, was sent to a Nazi work camp. In 1949 he fled the devastation left by World War II, and moved to Australia. After doing small business by selling books and clothing, he quickly befriended George Rockey, a fellow Hungarian immigrant. The pair bought two trucks, which they named "Samson" and "Delilah", and set up a transport company, "Alltrans". In 1967, Alltrans merged with Thomas Nationwide Transport, and the combined companies became TNT Ltd.. Under Abeles' guidance as managing director, TNT quickly expanded, and by the 1980s had established a presence in 180 countries and was termed "the second biggest transport empire in the world, operating by road, rail, sea and air".

In 1979 Abeles entered into an agreement with media mogul Rupert Murdoch to take over Ansett Transport Industries. He served as chief executive and joint managing director from 1982 until 1992. In September 1992 he left TNT to concentrate his efforts on the ailing Ansett, but just two months later he stepped down from the airline as well.

Sir Peter occasionally cut a controversial figure with his unscrupulous business tactics, and was seen as unsympathetic towards minority shareholders. He was also caught up in the allegations of corruption directed at, then, Premier, Sir Robert Askin, with journalist David Hickie accusing him of buying his 1972 knighthood from Askin, and giving Askin a seat at the board of TNT, plus 110,000 shares. He has been accused of being an associate of crime boss Abe Saffron and of being involved in drug trafficking with the Nugan Hand Bank. When alive, Abeles admitted to having common business interests with US West Coast Mafia boss Jimmy Fratianno, but that he did not know that Fratianno was Mafia connected.

As well being knighted, Abeles was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1991, and was named "Australian of the Year" by The Australian in 1987. In addition to his work for TNT and Ansett, Abeles served on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, and was chairman of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

Abeles died in Sydney at the age of 75, the victim of cancer. He was survived by his second wife, Kitty, two daughters and a stepdaughter. (He was divorced from his first wife Claire Dan).


<references />

  • "Peter Abeles, 75, a Leader In Australia's Business World", Nick Ravo, The New York Times, 1999-06-28
  • "Australian industrialist Peter Abeles dies from cancer", Associated Press, 1999-06-25
  • Goot, Murray, "Sir Robert Askin" (draft entry for The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 17, Melbourne University Press (forthcoming)), available online. Accessed 2005-12-31.

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