ROBERT Ross calls Australia a “land of opportunity” where Scots can reap rich rewards surrounded by golden beaches blessed by year-long sunshine.
As a Moray-bred multi-millionaire who swapped his homeland for a career Down Under and gained his fortune in the finance sector, he knows a thing or two about seizing life’s chances.
But while he made his mark in Australia’s sunshine state of Queensland, the 70-year-old Buckie-born businessman is aware that others have tried the same move and returned homesick or unable to adapt to the change in pace and lifestyle.
He knows all too well about the pitfalls and obstacles which lie on the path towards settling down in the land of kangaroos and didgeridoos, and admits he would probably have returned himself if he hadn’t cut off all ties with Britain before making his 10,000-mile emigration.
“I left in 1986 and my boss at the time said to me ‘why don’t you leave your house with us, we will let it out. Go try Australia and if you don’t like it, come back’.
“If I had done that I would have been back. I learned this much, you’ve got to be going somewhere, not leaving somewhere. If you leave a bridge it’s easy to get back, but if you burn the bridge there’s no way back.
“Australia was and still is a great opportunity for the right people, but you have to be seriously determined not to return.
“Homesickness is a big thing and you feel it every day thinking about your family. You don’t know north from south like you’ve been dropped out of the sky into a town and you don’t know what’s over that hill. The money, the life, the tax, you know nothing.”
Robert’s key to success was quickly finding work and seeking advice from those with whom he built up a trust.
He admits his determination to work hard and succeed as a financial planner in Brisbane may have caused the break-up of his first marriage, his only regret from the move Down Under.
He went on to become a driving force in Australia’s ever-changing money industry, starting his own financial firm and rubbing shoulders with Queensland’s rich and famous.
Nowadays he still works as a planner and taxation expert, but also advises immigrants who made the same journey as himself on how to carve their own niche in antipodean society.
“I always think of people who have gone to the moon; they didn’t go to the moon to live there, they went to do a little exploration and come back. They could have got stranded if their machines had broken down but they didn’t.
“You could get stranded in Australia if you’ve gone for all the wrong reasons: you’ve got no money, you can’t get back if your family can’t pay your fares,” he said.
“You must go for the right reasons and then when you do go, I think you need to immediately set about sitting down with somebody and getting advice.
Drawing up a five-year plan and sticking to it is Robert’s advice to anyone keen to follow his path to a successful life Down Under. He says sorting out housing, health and insurance issues are important, but a commitment to not returning home to Scotland at any point during that five-year period he feels is essential to eventually earning a happy and prosperous existence.
Robert now works for the Ross Financial Group along with his son, Tim, based in the appropriately named Fortitude Valley business suburb of Brisbane and just a two-minute walk from a taxation firm where he is also employed.
His career in the money game actually began in Scotland when he worked for a financial firm in Forfar, employed as what he calls a ‘hatchet man’ chasing up debts across the country.
He said: “I had a bit of success in that because I didn’t hammer people, I just realised most people who borrow money genuinely intend to pay it back, but had hit a bad spell and didn’t know what to do, so ran. You ended up getting them back in with a bit of pride in their lives.
“Occasionally you found a sad story and you would say ‘I think I’ll just say I couldn’t trace you’ because the last thing they needed was the past catching up with them.”
He became area manager, and admits it was a tough decision to leave a good job and take up an opportunity on the other side of the world.
Within three weeks of arriving in Brisbane he landed a job as a technical training manager with Prudential, before going on to create his own business in partnership with a former London policeman who he had worked alongside in Australia.
Robert’s firm was still contracted to train financial advisors for Prudential, who then breached the contract by trying to terminate the deal for reasons which later emerged because they were selling up to a major bank.
“It was a big break for us because in the end they had to pay us quite a few million dollars to terminate,” he revealed.
He also became president of Queensland’s financial advisors’ association, bringing him face-to-face with government people and business high flyers.
Robert’s route to success has not been a smooth one, as injury and illness threatened to end his working days.
Ten years ago he broke his back in an accident, meaning he was unable to work for more than a year. His company contract stated that if he was unable to provide personal supervision of his office, he had to sell his share of the firm.
“So I sold mine, it cost me 25 grand (in Australian dollars) and I sold it for half a million.”
His financial wisdom meant he had taken out an income protection policy, meaning he continued to get paid throughout his long-term absence from work as he slowly recovered from his injury.
Three years ago he also needed major heart surgery, involving two bypass operations and the replacement of two heart valves. But he has made a full recovery and has no intention to retire at the age of 70.
“I may be a multi-millionaire but I was just lucky. I didn’t even have a plan, it just happened for me,” Robert said. “Maybe I should be retired now, but I can’t do nothing.
“I enjoy a game of golf but I wouldn’t want to do that every day. So I work one day a week in the accountants, one day a week in the financial planners and now I’m doing business development.”
Read about Robert Ross's Moray life in the Northern Scot print version.