Who is Mike Cannon-Brookes: The billionaire tech entrepreneur who tried to buy Australia’s biggest energy provider AGL

If you’ve ever found yourself in a job or situation you feel underqualified for or out of depth in, you might have something in common with Australia’s third-richest person.

Tech billionaire and climate change crusader Mike Cannon-Brookes has been trying to buy Australia’s largest energy provider in his latest effort to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Atlassian co-founder has been open with his struggles with imposter syndrome in the past; unsure of how he stumbled into leading a multi-billion-dollar company, influencing climate policy and rubbing shoulders with fellow elite entrepreneurs.

The 42-year-old has been making headlines trying to execute what he called the biggest decarbonization project in the world.

Mr Cannon-Brookes and his consortium had an $ 8 billion takeover bid rejected by AGL Energy late in February, after AGL said the offer “materially undervalues ​​the company”.

A second offer worth around $ 9 billion was rejected over the weekend, and now Cannon-Brookes is set to abandon the takeover bid.

Mike Cannon-Brookes claimed the deal would have given Australians the cheapest energy in the world.(AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

So what was the motivation behind the bid? To stop AGL, which accounts for 8 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, using coal by 2035, and to pump $ 20 billion into renewable energy and storage.

According to Mr Cannon-Brookes this would have yielded the “lowest-priced energy in the world”.

An outspoken character on a range of issues, the father of four is already a household name to many and his stature is likely to grow as Australians increasingly push for action on climate change.

Colloquially known as an ‘accidental billionaire’, how did he rise to such prominence?

Atlassian – the Australian Titan

Mr Cannon-Brookes met best mate Scott Farquhar through their studies at the University of New South Wales.

Armed with fresh bachelor degrees and a credit card with a $ 10,000 limit, the pair had a modest goal: earn more than $ 48,500 annually – the rough salary offered to similar graduates – while working for themselves.

So in 2001, business software company Atlassian was born – the name derived from the Greek Titan, Atlas, condemned to hold up the sky on his shoulders.

Twenty-one years later, after going public on the American NASDAQ in 2015, the company is worth more than $ 74 billion at the time of writing, and boasts more than 200,000 customers.

Atlassian
Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes.

The pair remain at the helm of the company and are both estimated to be worth more than $ 20 billion each.

The two are neighbors, both residing in Point Piper harborside mansions in Sydney; Mr Cannon-Brookes in Fairwater, Australia’s most expensive home costing approximately $ 100 million, while Farquhar is in the more modestly priced Elaine, costing $ 71 million.

Much like his American tech billionaire counterparts Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, Mr Cannon-Brookes cuts a familiar and casual figure.

His long hair is typically contained by a baseball cap, accompanied by a scraggly beard and a plain T-shirt.

Changes to his uniform look often come in the form of merchandise from rugby league team the South Sydney Rabbitohs and American basketball team the Utah Jazz, both of which he has an ownership stake in.

Betting to lose

In 2017, before making Tesla one of the most valuable companies in the world, influencing cryptocurrencies and starting a billionaire space race, Elon Musk made a $ 50 million bet with Mr Cannon-Brookes.

South Australia was pivoting to renewable energy at the time and encountering problems, which the head of Tesla’s battery division said could be solved in 100 days.

The famous Twitter exchange that followed saw the biggest battery in the world built in South Australia, 40 days ahead of deadline.

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Mr Cannon-Brookes said it was a bet he’d “never been more happy to lose”.

Commitment to innovation and change

Few could argue Mr Cannon-Brookes does not put his money where his mouth is when it comes to the causes he is passionate about.

In December 2014, Atlassian launched the 1 percent pledge, where the company donates 1 percent of its equity, employee time and product licenses to charitable causes.

Personally, Mr Cannon-Brookes and wife Annie Todd have pledged $ 1.5 billion to fight climate change, by creating new technology and implementing what has already been invented.

His private investment firm Grok Ventures has stakes in a range of businesses including Brighte, finance for personal renewable energy, and Who Gives a Crap, which donates 50 percent of profits to build toilets in the developing world.

The $ 2 billion venture capital firm has pledged to invest its funds into climate change-focused companies.

Where to from here?

Mr Cannon-Brookes joined forces with Canadian firm Brookfield to put the takeover bid forward to AGL on Saturday, arguing that together they could fast-track the closure of AGL’s remaining coal-fired generators, including the Loy Yang A brown coal generator.

The AGL board on Monday said the unsolicited proposal it received on Saturday morning “materially undervalues” the company and “is not in the best interests of AGL Energy shareholders”.

Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes attends the second bush summit in Cooma, seated speaking on stage to audience
Climate change policy is one of the things Mike Cannon-Brookes speaks publicly about.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

Brookfield and Grok Ventures are now expected to walk away from the takeover push. The Canadian firm was funding about 80 per cent of the bid.

“The Consortium is withdrawing from the process to take AGL private and believes that the company’s demerger proposal is not in the interest of shareholders, consumers or the planet,” a source close to both parties said.

In a tweet, Mr Cannon-Brookes said: “The Brookfield-Grok consortium looking to take private and transform AGL is putting our pens down – with great sadness.”

“Our path was the world’s biggest decarbonisation project. From Aus. The board are proceeding with their demerger path. This path is a terrible outcome for shareholders, taxpayers, customers, Australia and the planet we all share.”

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So what might a successful takeover have meant for energy prices, with AGL providing energy to 4.5 million Australians?

Mr Cannon-Brookes said his consortium taking control of the company would have seen energy prices drop, but AGL stated the opposite would occur.

Head of the Victoria Energy Policy Center at Victoria University Bruce Mountain said it was hard to predict how the market might have reacted.

“The sooner we decarbonise and reduce our exposure to volatile gas and coal prices, the better,” Professor Mountain said.

“This is the established pattern we’re seeing in Australia and elsewhere.

“Those regions in Australia that have moved towards cleaner energies more quickly than others are finding lower wholesale prices and lower retail prices, for example, South Australia versus Queensland, where we’ve seen a sizeable reduction in South Australia, but an increase in Queensland . “

Professor Mountain noted that bids similar to Mr Cannon-Brookes’s could become more common and would have to be considered with regards to what was best for shareholders.

For Mr Cannon-Brookes, it seems unlikely he will fade from the eco-friendly spotlight anytime soon.

Much like the mythological namesake of his company, he seems determined to carry Australia’s climate change campaign on his shoulders.

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