Nick is a great South Australian, and a long term supporter of FCTA – Building Careers. This recent article published in The Advertiser doesn’t highlight enough how much Nick has contributed to South Australian tradies. It’s great to hear Nick is back in business, you cant keep a good man down!
Former construction mogul Nick Bianco rebuilds after losing business, home and Adelaide United soccer team
HE once owned Adelaide United and for decades lorded over one of South Australia’s most successful businesses.
Now Nick Bianco has more modest ambitions — he wants his own home.
Five years since he lost control of the construction supply empire he had built over 40 years, Nick has spoken exclusively to The Advertiser about his new business venture and how a dating agency led him to love.
And despite no longer being involved with the company he created, the 69-year-old, renowned for his generosity and fierce loyalty towards his staff, is in a happy place.
“Life is so much more simple, you learn to live with less … at the moment life is very good,” he says.
This month marks a year since the Italian immigrant emerged from four years of bankruptcy, during which time he lost his home and had to find new purpose at age 64.
But Nick is rebuilding his life with the help of and family and especially the support of his wife Irene, who met Nick as the financial threads to his business were beginning to unravel.
“She has stood by me, which was good when I went through the business if you haven’t got anybody then you are in trouble,” he says.
Irene, 61, adds: “You have to work together, you have good times with your partner and you have bad times. You’ve got to stay together and work it out together.”
The bricklayer from Benevento has started a new company, Bianco Modular Building, which will within weeks begin importing from China — and he hopes one day constructing locally — transportable and flatpack buildings suitable for holiday houses, the mining industry and caravan parks.
Nick is director of the company, in association with Euro Appliance’s director and former employee, Mario Boffa.
Nick is confident, that much like the construction supply business synonymous with his name, he can make a success of his new venture.
If little else, he hopes it will generate enough income to get him off the rental ladder.
“I would like to get a house again, for Irene,” Nick, who has been renting in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs for the past four years, and living off his superannuation and savings, says.
The pair spoke candidly about their relationship, which blossomed almost 10 years ago through a dating agency 18 months after Nick separated from his first wife Ada.
Nick says that the pair — who have four children — had grown apart and by the end of their marriage were sleeping in separate rooms. They separated when their youngest child turned 18.
“We were totally different, even from the start,” he says. “But I married the Italian way, we never went out alone together, we were chaperoned and we got married within nine months.”
Irene, who had been living in Waikerie for 17 years and did not know who Nick was, moved to Adelaide in December 2001 to start a “new life” when her husband left her and their two daughters after his abattoir business collapsed.
But Nick says that Irene almost ended the fledgling romance when, on their third date, the then school teacher at Banksia Park International High School discovered Nick ran a business.
“She said, ‘no, no, no, this is not going to work out’, she said ‘I want someone normal’, I said ‘hang on, I’m normal’, I was shocked,” Nick says.
But Irene, who has applied to re-register as a teacher, says with money came “obligations and problems”.
“I said, I think I want something really simple, I didn’t get that,” she says, jokingly.
The relationship also survived Irene giving Nick a voucher to a personal trainer for his 60th birthday. It took him four months to get the courage to attend, but it’s an appointment he has committed to twice a week for the past nine years.
Nick and Irene married in a small civil ceremony in front of nine people, including the celebrant, in their then home, and will celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary on December 6.
Irene has been not only Nick’s love and support, but has helped him negotiate some basic skills needed for a second career in business.
“He didn’t even know how to turn the laptop on,” Irene says of when they first met. “You know how to turn it on now, you went to classes.”
“It’s not my thing, it’s not my interest,” he replies.
“I don’t know how to spell, I’m no good at spelling writing emails and all that, and even on
the phone (writing messages) I’m not that good, so she’s been doing all that for me.
“So I tell her what I like and she does that. Even when I had my business … it got big and I had people doing all that … I didn’t know how to use the phones much.
“My employees helped me make Biancos what it was, as well as my friends and loyal customers.”
But what he lacked in technical nouse, Nick made up for in a business savvy, going from a bricklayer to businessman, who commanded more than 400 staff across five separate divisions of his Bianco conglomerate, and poured millions into sporting clubs, including as owner of United and sponsor of the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power.
Nick and Irene are members of United and were at Adelaide Oval to see the Reds win their first A-League title.
Reflecting on the collapse of his company, Nick reiterates that he alone was responsible for the decisions that led his building supplies company to be placed in receivership, with debts of $60 million.
The group collapsed as it could not service loans taken out for its $60 million steel fabrication facility at Gepps Cross, which was later sold for $22 million and is being used as a warehouse.
“I took too big a risk, that’s all it was,” he says.
“I wasn’t trading insolvent but I thought anymore and I could be trading insolvent, so but the thing was to sell do something and get someone else in.”
His new company operates from a small shipping container just metres from the steel fabricating plant, which brought about his undoing and now serves as a warehouse for bulk liquor.
A consortium of staff and building industry companies, led by Nick’s son Russell saved the Nick’s hardware business and the jobs of 100 employees but the structural steel division was closed.
Irene says Nick has never been bitter about what transpired with his business.
“We’ve spoken with quite a few people who have gone through similar kinds of things and certainly have not handled it as well as Nick did,” she says.
“And I think, that’s actually what’s made it easier for me too. I guess because Nick is not bitter having lost everything except our super, he didn’t even have a car, he had my little old car and then his brother lent him a car, that’s it … but it’s Nick’s attitude that makes it easier.”
THE MAKING AND BREAKING OF NICK BIANCO
Nick Bianco OAM
Born February 3, 1947 in Baselice, in the province of Benevento, in Campania, Italy
One of six children to Orazio and Antonietta Bianco.
Emigrated to Australia in February, 1958, aged 11, and the family settled in Maylands.
Educated at Wellington Road Primary School, now Trinity Gardens Primary.
Left school aged 14 to begin a bricklaying apprenticeship.
In 1970 at age 23, he started his one-man bricklaying business from a rented flat at Norwood and seven years later established the hardware and hiring company, headquartered at Newton.
By the 1990s he employed 250 staff.
Over time his Bianco Group of Companies expanded operations to include a structural steel business and construction and safety division with a workforce more than 400.
In 2006 he took sole ownership of Adelaide United from Gordon Pickard and a year later is granted a Medal of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the construction industry and his philanthropy.
In 2009 he relinquished control to the Football Federation of Australia amid suggestions his company was in financial difficulty.
In June 2011 Bianco Construction Supplies goes into receivership with debts of $60 million as it could not service loans taken out on its new Gepps Cross steel fabrication facility.
Nick’s son Russell heads a consortium to buy the construction supply business saving jobs.
Nick steps down from the company and declares himself bankrupt in August 15, 2011.