Andrew (Twiggy) Forrest PhD is on a high.
The billionaire founder and former CEO of Fortescue Metals and his wife Nicola Forrest, have just added Akubra to their portfolio of Aussie icons; three years after buying another legendary bushwear company, RM Williams.
There was no shortage of hugs and handshakes when Dr Forrest arrived to inspect his new factory in South Kempsey on Sunday, November 19; whether it was due to the excitement of seeing where the hat he's always worn was made, or wanting to reassure the family selling the iconic brand to him after 147 years that it was in safe hands.
"It's going to be great, isn't it," he said as he met assembled media, some who had been flown and bussed in from Sydney.
"This is a day for Akubra, a day for Kempsey, and a day for Australia; to keep a fantastic brand at home."
Andrew and Nicola Forrest bought Akubra from the Keir family through their private investment company, Tattarang.
Chief Executive Officer John Hartman, who was among the Tattarang contingent in Kempsey for the official handover and staff family day, said they would not be disclosing the sale price at this stage and that a figure reported by other media that morning was "off the mark".
Both he and Dr Forrest reassured staff that numbers would not only be retained but that there would be growth.
Outgoing owner Stephen Keir IV at times choked back tears as he and his sisters Nikki and Stacey, and their Akubra-wearing extended family, stood alongside the man they have entrusted with their legacy.
"We got it to a point and we can't get it further," Mr Keir said.
"Tattarang will take it further and do that."
Nicola Forrest had toured the factory just days earlier, which is when the news was broken to staff.
Staff spokesperson Jenny Miller is now retired after decades at the factory. She said staff were initially "shell-shocked" when told the news on Thursday, November 16.
Such is their respect for the Keir family that she says staff are now trusting the decision is a good one.
Stephen Keir is the last of five generations of Keirs to lead the company. He and other members of the family will have either transitionary or ongoing roles with the company, including his son Stephen Keir V.
Dr Forrest says he now wants to make the Akubra "the premiere hat of its type in the world."
And while Australia's richest couple separated several months ago, Andrew Forrest couldn't help pulling out a well-worn phone and asking a journalist to take a "happy snap" of him with the Keirs, so he "could send it to Nicola".
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