Morris Group Founder and Executive Chairman Chris Morris has built his life on a simple premise: that passion is the best pathway to success.
It’s a philosophy that’s served him well time after time – from his humble beginnings growing and selling tomatoes during his early days as a computer programmer; through to founding Computershare and building it into an ASX Top-50 global company.
He’s more interested in following his instincts and his passions, than to develop a 10-year masterplan that’ll never come to fruition.
Leading with the heart
This approach has meant that as Morris Group has grown, the business has become more reflective of Chris himself and all the things that bring him joy. Great pubs with good food and wine, craft brewing, holidays in idyllic locations, and cruising the open waters.
His decision to purchase the legendary Portsea Hotel, for example, was made more with the heart strings than with the purse strings. It’s a toast to fond memories of summers spent on the Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
A view of Port Phillip Bay from Portsea Hotel
“It’s the place where I had my first drink and I think probably half of Victoria’s teenagers had their first drink at the Portsea Hotel. It’s such an iconic place and when it came up for sale in the late 90s, I had nothing to do with pubs. I was just running Computershare. But that’s how it all started.”
Since then, his collection of pubs has grown, each with their own connection and story, and all adored by their local communities in their unique way.
A tropical love affair
Although he spends a lot of his time these days on Queensland’s Gold Coast enjoying what he describes as some of the world’s best beaches, it’s the state’s far north that has really captured his imagination and become the beating heart of Morris Group’s tourism portfolio.
Chris’ well documented love affair with North Queensland began when his dream of owning an island resort finally became within reach.
“It was back in 2011. I just saw an ad in the Financial Review about an island for sale called Orpheus Island,” he says.
“Some people dream of owning a pub, but owning an island was pretty attractive to me.”
In more recent years, he’s further cemented his love for this slice of paradise by acquiring the nearby Pelorus Island, now home to some of Australia’s most exclusive private residence accommodation, nestled on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef: Pelorus Private Island.
“It’s unquestionably the best beach. You can swim off the beach about 20 metres and there’s some of the best coral you’ve ever seen. It’s just totally unique and there’s nobody else on the island. It’s pretty special,” he says.
“I obviously love my boats and spending time on the Mediterranean and enjoying the history and all of that. But the thing about being on the boat in The Med is that there’s absolutely no fish.
“That’s the thing I love about North Queensland. Around Pelorus and Orpheus Island there’s fish everywhere and you won’t see another boat. I love fishing off the boat, catching a coral trout or a red emperor and then eating it that night – there’s really nothing better.”
The beach and reef at Orpheus Island in North Queensland
The luck of the draw
Perhaps one of Chris’ luckiest catches though, was when Townsville’s Jupiters Hotel & Casino went up for sale in 2013 – and it was almost the one that got away.
Initially, his main interest in the property was as a potential location for helicopter transfers for guests to and from Orpheus Island and for handling stock deliveries.
But when he took a tour, he saw a glimmer of potential. A bold vision and an extensive redevelopment later and The Ville Resort-Casino was born.
“Like most things, it happened by accident,” he says.
“When we bought The Ville there wasn’t one bar or any place where you could sit and have a drink and look over the water. It was crazy!
“Now it’s probably the biggest asset that we’ve got and I think it’s probably one of the best casinos in Australia. The team has done a great job and the locals love The Ville.”
His knack for seeing a business’ potential to grow and evolve has also seen him transform Nautilus Aviation from a one-aircraft operation to Australia’s biggest helicopter operators.
He says that while passion plays a significant role, there’s another big factor that makes Morris Group’s businesses successful: its people.
“Generally speaking, I think the thing that makes great businesses is great people. It’s never just about one person. My whole approach to running businesses and making them successful is trying to get the best people. That doesn’t always happen overnight, and you might have to have a few goes but when you get it right, you know.
“Something that I get a lot of satisfaction out of is when I see people from across all the different businesses working together. Morris Group has a lot of different businesses in different areas – it’s everything from helicopters to pubs to boats and hotels – so it’s taken a bit of time to get there; but it’s at a point now where it really is coming together.
“People are realising that we’re all one company and coming up with ways of collaborating and finding better ways to do things that benefit everyone. In the end, it’s about the whole group and that’s the most satisfying thing for me.”
Mum’s the word
Looking back, Chris admits that his own success wasn’t always a certainty.
In fact, in his teenage years he struggled with his studies and was unsure what direction his life would take. It wasn’t until he found his true passion, that he saw things clearly.
“I was a bit too distracted with girls in those years I think,” he laughs.
“I was failing at most subjects at school, but I just passed maths. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but something I really loved was computer programming.”
So, while his siblings went off and pursued university education his mother intervened. Driven by the simple goal of landing him some steady employment, she enrolled him in Australia’s first ever computer course in 1966.
“I really owe my mum for that one. None of my success would have happened without her,” he says.
The Morris Family
Having found his niche in the emerging world of technology, Chris flourished. Twelve years later he founded his stock transfer company Computershare and the rest is history.
Today the company has offices in 20 countries across five continents and employs over 18,000 people.
“I was passionate about programming, so I actually loved going to work,” he says.
“I think that’s the key to life. If you don’t really want to go to work, you’re probably not going to be good at it. You’ve got to have a bit of passion.
“The other thing I’ve always believed is that if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody ever will. I always believed I was the best computer programmer in the world, and you have to.
“But you have to work hard too. My first business venture was growing tomatoes when I was starting my work as a computer programmer.
“I used to come home from work and pack tomatoes and then get up in the morning and go to Queen Victoria Market and sell them. I tell everyone that I made all my money in tomatoes.”