Fast lane not fast enough

Maybe it's the exhilarating feeling of leaving competitors in the dust or just a desperate need to escape claustrophobic boardrooms and cold glass towers that drives this lot of chief executives to express a passion for speed and wide open spaces.

When Money asked a few CEOs to nominate what they enjoyed spending their money on most, fast cars, fast horses and mountain bikes topped the list. We managed to catch up with them in the nick of time just before they shot off at breakneck speed.


Chief executive of Virgin

He may have four decades of experience in the airline industry but outside of work it is ''decent cars'' that hold John Borghetti's attention, not planes.

A confessed ''car nut'', Virgin Australia's chief executive loves nothing better than taking his Porsche for a spin when he can find some time away from his busy work schedule.

''I particularly enjoy classic cars - I've had a few in my time,'' says Borghetti, whose fascination now lies with German motor cars.

''I occasionally take out the odd [Porsche] 911 which, incidentally, is almost 40 years old.''

He also takes the opportunity, on occasion, to get under the bonnets of his cars but admits that ''every time I do that the thing doesn't start''.

Borghetti, who stepped down as Qantas's third-in-charge in 2009 before taking the reins at Australia's second-largest airline a year later, admits it is hard to find the time to indulge his passions.

But, at 56, he does his best to make it trackside at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne every year.

''The last 18 months have just been seven days a week [of work],'' he says. ''But, if I get time, I do like my grand prix. I like my car racing - I like anything to do with decent cars.''

The Italian-born revhead, who divides his time between Brisbane and his home in Glebe, is also obsessed with football - and one English Premier League club in particular.

''I'm a mad Chelsea supporter and I'm really pissed off with the way they are playing at the moment,'' he quips.

So what is a perfect day for this airline executive?

''Spend a day with cars [and] sit in front of the television, with a plate of pasta and a bottle of red, watching the football. Oh, I forgot my wife,'' he laughs. ''And, of course, with the family.''


Chairman and founder Harvey Norman

Sprawling retail business Harvey Norman might sell the widest range of couches and plasma televisions in the country but you won't find founder and chairman Gerry Harvey slumped in front of the idiot box flicking the channels.

The retail mogul, billionaire and 23rd richest person in Australia loves to chase his twin passions of thoroughbred horses and sport - and for him, neither are a spectator sport enjoyed from the lounge room. ''I love golf, play tennis every week and love it,'' Harvey says.

''I love sport. I've never loved watching sport on television. I can't sit there and watch any sport on TV for more than half an hour or 15 minutes because I'd rather go out and do it. I've always been like that. When I was a kid, if they said to me, 'Would you like to play sport 14 hours a day and sleep 10 hours?', that would have done me.''

But of all the sports - of all the passions - Harvey is best known for and most successful in, it's horses, the sport of kings.

He currently owns 1000 horses, including mares, stallions and yearlings and struggles to count all the horses he has owned in his life.

He loves the industry so much, he bought Magic Millions from receivers more than a decade ago and has helped turn its Gold Coast horse-sales event into a glamorous, successful and important date on the racing industry's calendar.

Harvey says he got the racing bug early but had to wait until he was in his mid-30s and the public float of his Norman Ross retail chain before he had the money to indulge his thoroughbred passion.

''I always wanted to be a farmer when I grew up but when I grew up, I couldn't be a farmer - you can't buy a farm if you don't have money - so I thought I better go to work,'' he says.

''By the time I was 33, we went public with Norman Ross and I had money and I went to the horse sales. I wanted to buy a farm, which I did, and I bought some horses, so that got me going in the horse business.

''In 1972, I bought my first five mares at horse sales in Sydney; of the three horses I sold at the sales, one won 18 races, one won second breeders' place and the third won races too.

''I thought, 'this is a piece of cake,' so I bought more and more and I raced them and after a while, I joined the Sydney Turf Club [and] was a director there for five years.''

Today, Harvey's 1000 horses are spread across five studs, of which two are in New Zealand.

''Most people, when they get a bit of money, most have an interest - whether it's big-game fishing, yachting, horses, aeroplanes, art, wine, farms - so most people do that. So it's a matter of if you have made money, you indulge your passion and mine is horses.''

MIKE YOUNG Chief executive of BC Iron

The mining sector might be the fast lane of the Australian economy but for the chief executive of BC Iron, Mike Young, it's still not fast enough.

That's why, on weekends, you'll find him speeding down hills behind the handlebars of one of his five bikes.

An avid participant in both road and mountain biking, Young hit a new personal best speed of 92km/h during a recent 235-kilometre race around the Victorian Alps.

''I haven't cracked 100km/h yet, that's my goal,'' he says.

''Riding a bike is like feeling like a kid again, it's just like being a kid.''

He's not slow on the flat roads either, often hitting close to 60km/h in the final stages of his regular 90-kilometre Saturday morning rides.

Though most of his cycling is done around the streets and hinterlands of his adopted home town Perth, the Canadian-born iron-ore exporter occasionally gets to indulge while on the road.

A recent birthday present from his wife saw Young dropped high up in the New Zealand Alps by a helicopter, leaving him to ride back down.

Trips like that don't come cheap and nor do the constant upgrades to his biking equipment.

Young estimates he has spent between $20,000 and $30,000 on his hobby over the past decade.

''I bought a Santa Cruz 'Blur' mountain bike and that was a $6000 bike that I got for $3000 … and the road bike I've got is worth about $8000 but I managed to get it pretty cheap because a mate of mine owned a bike store,'' he says.

But he insists it's money well spent; the danger involved in hurtling down a hill means the stresses of corporate life are completely forgotten, for a short time at least.

''With mountain biking in particular, when you are on a really good technical trail you cannot think of anything else except what you are doing because if your mind starts to wander you will fall,'' he says.

''So it's actually quite meditative, you think of nothing else.''