12 June 2023
To say business, philanthropy and rugby run in the family is something of an understatement for Robert Millner, patriarch of the $12bn investment fund Washington H. Soul Pattinson.
He is the fourth generation of the Millner family to sit at the board table of Soul Pattinson, the 120-year-old conglomerate with business interests that span financial services, brick-making, mining and resources, telecommunications and healthcare, and which has built an unrivalled history of performance.
On the philanthropic side he can claim a strong pedigree, with his great grandfather Lewy Pattinson donating the first plane to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Then there is his other great love, rugby union, with his deep involvement in the code on and off the pitch something of a family tradition. He was a plucky back for Eastwood in Sydney and country team Cowra, later a patron of both clubs, and was chairman of Sydney Rugby Union for five years.
It is for these traits that Millner has been recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours with an Order of Australia for service to business, to rugby union as an administrator, and to the community through philanthropic contributions. “I am obviously very honoured to have something like this bestowed on me, and something that you never expect,” Millner says.
It may also come as a surprise to his family, as Millner hadn’t told them he received a letter from the Governor-General’s office eight weeks ago, informing him that he was about to get the AO. He was saving the surprise for the long weekend.
“I haven’t even told my wife yet. I’ve got the kids coming over for the weekend and I might open a good bottle of red on Saturday or Sunday night and tell them.”
Millner was born in Sydney and when he was nine his parents bought a property in Cowra. He still keeps in touch with his rugby mates.
“When I was in the bush it was a way to make your own entertainment. I met a lot of people and a lot of my mates are still out in the bush,” he says.
His Soul Pattinson conglomerate has grown to near $12bn market capitalisation with an unbroken run of dividends since it listed on the market on January 21, 1903, when the first shares were offered for £1 each.
“We are employing people, we are creating jobs and they are paying taxes to the government. We have had a very long experience of being successful and employing a lot of people and also that relates back to paying dividends to shareholders.
“And it is quite an honour for me to be honoured in our 120th year as a public company, and in all those years we have never missed a dividend, the depression, all through the war years, GFC, and more recently Covid.”
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