John Bertrand has had quite the career. He led Australia II to victory in the 1983 America’s Cup, he won bronze at the 1976 Olympics, he is Chairman of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, he is President of Swimming Australia – the list goes on and on. With a resume this impressive, you might be surprised what he lists as his proudest moment of his career. Find out in this latest edition of “White with one”.
Peter: How do you take your coffee?
Weak latte, which is basically half strength. I know that sounds pathetic but I like it that way! I would have maybe 3 a day but because they’re only half strength, it’s only really 1 and ½. That’s what I tell Rasa anyway!
Peter: What is your background?
I’m actually an engineer with a degree from Monash Uni. After I graduated, I studied at MIT in Boston and achieved a Masters in Science. Ever since then I’ve been an entrepreneur having been involved in the development of many businesses and still do so to this day.
Peter: How did your sailing career start?
I started mucking around with boats when I was 7. We lived at Chelsea and I could climb over the back fence with my brother to get to the beach. We started off small but if I hadn’t of lived near the water, the outcome may not have been the same. I’m still heavily involved with sailing, having recently won the World Etchell title. I’m also attending this year’s America’s Cup being held in Bermuda in July.
Peter: What are some of your proudest moments/highlights of your career?
Undoubtedly being married to the same young woman for 47 years now. That has to be a world record in the world of America’s Cup!
Peter: How did the two of you meet?
It was Club 431 in St Kilda Road and I picked her out of a group of nurses and as they say the rest is history. I was all of 18 years old, way too young to appreciate the significance of the girl I had just met.
Peter: Very smooth operator John.
Rasa might have a different view of it, but I’m sticking to mine. Obviously, the America’s Cup win is up there too, as well as the bronze medal I won in Sailing at the 1976 Olympics. Australia only one three medals that year, so I thought that was pretty good.
Peter: Why do you think Melbourne is such a great place to host major events?
We as Melburnians just love our sport, arts, music, musicals – you name it. It’s almost as if it’s part of our DNA and the best thing is that we support it by attending events of all descriptions. Yes, we have all these great facilities but importantly we all get on and don’t have some of the issues European sporting events sometime have in relation to crowd violence. As a Collingwood supporter, I’ll talk to anyone else, not sure they want to talk to me though!
Peter: Who are your most admired Melburnians?
Without a doubt, Ron Walker. There are not too many who have literally given so much for the benefit of this city and we have a lot to thank him for. I also admire Ron Eddington in a similar way for what he has done in many different areas of infrastructure, transport and major events.
Peter: What does Melbourne need that it doesn’t already have?
We need to look at how we adapt to the global world ecosystem, which is constantly changing. San Francisco, as an example, has 2,000 startup companies at any one time and we need to encourage our youngest and brightest to give it a go. It’s all about ‘innovate, fail fast, learn, succeed’. This is the key area of interest to me, particularly in my role as President of Swimming Australia, as we are always looking for ways to improve our performance.
Peter: What is your favourite event in Melbourne to attend?
The ANZAC Day match at the G. To stand there in silence is a very emotional experience and rightfully respects our ANZAC heritage. I’m also a big fan of the Grand Prix, tennis and cricket and like to take my family as much as I can.
Peter: If you could meet any other Melburnian, who would it be and why?
I’m currently a Vice Chancellor Professorial Fellow at Monash University, involved with a high-end leadership program. The ‘essence of leadership’. Basically, we select 50 top students who we think can run the country in the future. It gives them the opportunity to learn from some of our most outstanding leaders. These have included Bob Hawke, John Howard and the head of the Army. Someone that I’d love to come and address the group is Luke Beveridge for what he has been able to achieve at the Western Bulldogs. Not just the Premiership but the way the whole club came together. It would be an amazing story, much to learn from Luke’s life lessons.
Peter: What age will you be when Collingwood win their next flag?
I’m 70 now, so next year would be fine. The Chinese say 70 is the year of wisdom. I like that.
Peter: I think I’ll be at least 70 before I see the Demons get up! John, thank you for your time today.