Peter Freedman – where are they now?developer
Advice from Trinity’s “$9M guitar” man
Peter Freedman today is a wealthy businessman famous for founding Rode Microphones and spending almost $9 million on a guitar. But when he arrived in Australia from Sweden as an eight-year-old he had never been to school, couldn’t read or write, and spoke no English.
He recalls the prospect of entering Year 7 at Trinity in 1972 as “frightening”, but he certainly emerged well equipped to make his way in the world.
His experience provides further proof of an increasingly familiar tale—how even one teacher can help change a life.
He remembers being encouraged by a Mr Clancy who “put his faith in you and saw you rise”.
“I didn’t want to let him down. I went to the top of the class and was put into Advanced. I wanted to please him. I bombed when I didn’t have him, but it shows you what a teacher can do to inspire somebody.”
He also remembers music master Don Holder wanting to listen to and discuss all types of music, including heavy rock from the likes of Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper.
“I loved listening to him play the organ at lunchtime, and I never saw him angry. Good teachers know how to make you love them and do the right thing for them. They are very inspiring people.”
He enjoyed cadets and target shooting in the days when the school had its own rifle range.
He was not academically gifted, rating himself 1/150 in Latin “for signing my name”. But his father’s health problems meant he was intermittently running the family electrical shop on Liverpool Road, Ashfield. By the time he was 16 he was in charge.
He had to “step up and be the breadwinner” for his English dad, Swedish mum, his sister and himself.
“You do what you’ve got to do. You don’t even think about it,” he said.
“Luckily my dad didn’t let me do too many stupid things,” he told former school captain Spiro Christopoulos in an interview filmed at Trinity.
But he got into financial difficulties in the late 1980s, borrowing a lot of money when “crazy” interest rates were up to 22 per cent.
Paying back the money was “like trying to fill in the Grand Canyon with a shovel”.
“But I lucked it.”
He pulled out a microphone he had bought in China “for 10 bucks” years earlier and asked a friend to go out and see if there was any interest in it.
“It was just when digital recording was starting. They were cheap and incredible quality, and everyone needed mikes.”
He was able to sell them 10 times cheaper than imported $5000 European mikes. Rode was born, the name coming from his friend’s observation that the mikes would sell “faster than a rat runs up a drain pipe”. Rode-NT1 became his financial saviour.
Against the odds, he found a buyer in the US with an initial order of 100 microphones. He and his then wife, Lou, built a business that now sells around three million products a year.
Based in Silverwater, it has 350 local employees, offices in seven countries including the US, Britain, Korea and China, and 8,000 dealers worldwide in 118 countries.
But Mr Freedman says money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “When you don’t have a lot of money you think, ‘Oh, how cool’. But when you do have money it’s not as cool as you thought.”
Wealth has, however, enabled him to live large, and to support his interests, principally in the arts. His philanthropy and his contribution to exports were recognised in his 2016 Order of Australia medal.
He stunned the Sydney property market in 2018 by paying $16 million for a penthouse apartment in a Potts Point building which, by a twist of fate, once housed the Chevron Hotel’s Silver Space nightclub where his dad mixed sound for touring artists like Tom Jones.
Last year he made headlines around the world by buying, with “knees shaking”, the late Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain’s guitar for $A8.79 million, making it the world’s most expensive guitar.
He intends to raise money for the arts by touring it post-COVID, saying: “As a marketer I thought, ‘This is going to give me a voice’, and it worked.”
He also bought the late Don Bradman’s baggy green cap for $450,000 and intends to use it to promote his company’s push into cricket-crazy India.
He contributed $5 million to this year’s Sydney Festival, saying: “A society without the arts in a broader sense is dead. Arts affect people in so many ways. You’ve got to fund them,” he said, even though he “can’t draw, and I think I frustrated my art teacher like crazy.”
Values and empathy for others came from his parents but he added: “Trinity, upon reflection, gave it to me, too. I believe that (now) even though I wouldn’t have thought it then.”
School was not always plain sailing for him. He described it as a combination of “fond memories and horror stories.”
“I broke every finger in my hands from fighting. I don’t like fighting, but it looked like you had to.”
He says teachers can say things to young people that “rip your guts out” and “will last forever”.
“I used that as I went on and employed people. Think about what you’ve just said. I don’t always do that—I’m passionate—but I always apologise. Do unto others—that’s how it works.”
His son James is an Air Force pilot, flying C130s, and his daughter Lauren is studying for an MBA at the London School of Economics and organising events and festivals.
His advice for current Trinity students could scarcely be briefer or starker: “Never. Give. Up.”