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From Grill’d stoush to extortion racket: Inside the controversies of millionaire Geoff Bainbridge

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His business resume might be littered with household names but yesterday wasn’t the first controversy to haunt meth millionaire, Geoff Bainbridge.

Businessman Geoff Bainbridge is tied to some of Australia’s biggest business success stories.

From Swedish “fun” sock brand, Happy Socks, to Aussie jewellery darling Samantha Wills and burger giant Grill’d, the Melbourne man’s CV is littered with household names.

However, since Wednesday morning, thanks to an alleged extortion racket uncovered by The Australian, the father-of-four is now also well-known by a regrettable night in an apartment in South-East Asia.

Video from the night shows the 50-year-old in his underwear, smoking from what appeared to be an ice pipe.

Mr Bainbridge claimed the video was part of a six-year long extortion ploy, however there are questions around the timing of when the video was filmed and how he came to be holding the drugs.

The Australian’s Sharri Markson, who broke the story, said there were deatils in other videos that hadn’t been published, which indicated the video was filmed in 2021 and not 2015 as Brainbridge claims. But explaining the discrepancy to the The Age, Mr Bainbridge claimed his extortionists altered the date stamp of the videos.

While he confirms the video is of him, he said video has seen him pay his unknown assailant 14 payments worth more than $9000 in the past seven years.

However, it’s also not the first controversy to plague the multi-millionaire.

‘He is somebody I cannot trust’

Undoubtedly, Mr Bainbridge’s most high-profile business association is with the burger franchise Grill’d.

Now valued at around $370 million, his tenure at the business ended in 2016 after chief executive and founder Simon Crowe sought an order that would force Mr Bainbridge to sell his stake in the business.

Their 17-year friendship dates back to their respective tenures at the beer giant Foster’s Group, and ended in a lengthy legal stoush that settled in July 2017, with Mr Crowe buying Mr Bainbridge out.

Reports from the Federal court case in 2016 show how the relationship between the former friends grossly deteriorated.

One incident saw Mr Bainbridge openly admitting to calling his friend a “c**t”, with Mr Crowe also allegeging that his former friend and colleague had falsified facts, Nine Newspapers report.

“Your honour, I have gone through this journey now since, effectively, January 2015 and Geoff has consistently misrepresented his position,” said Mr Crowe.

“He has lied through the court process. He is somebody I cannot trust and who I detest.

“I struggle to be in the same room with him. There’s other people in my business who are senior who know how I feel about him and many of them share the same feelings.”

After being invited to join the company as an investor in 2004, Mr Bainbridge, Mr Crowe and third investor, Simon McNamara (who was bought out of the business in 2011) grew Grill’d from a combined $500,000 investment to more than 140 stores by 2015.

In light of recent events, a spokesman for Grill’d has asked for Mr Bainbridge not to be referred as the co-founder of Grill’d – claiming Mr Bainbridge joined the company as an investor.

From Foster’s secretary to strategy man

While Mr Bainbridge would have been around 32 years old by the time he started at Grill’d, his first job was assistant company secretary at Foster’s Group, which was absorbed by Asahi Group Holdings in 2019, the Australian Financial Review reports.

Gradually he moved into a strategy-based position, where he helped the company become the first international beer company to operate in India.

Throughout his career, the serial entrepreneur and investor has been involved in a range of businesses which include Bounce Trampolines, Swedish-brand Happy Socks, Australia-based design firm Studio Ongarato, Melbourne business Pizza Religion and surf jewellery brand, Icon.

Given he claims to have been extorted since 2015, his lack of a public persona isn’t surprising. He openly spoke about his love of Succession to the AFR earlier this year (“It’s so compelling. It’s so deviously nasty,” he said), however there is little info on his dealing with the multitude of businesses he once helped to build.

His role with much-loved, but now-defunct, Australian jewellery brand, Samantha Wills is the outlier.

Speaking to whimn, founder Samantha Wills said she met Mr Bainbridge in 2009 when she was “three years into being a sole trader” and “$8000 in debt”.

“I knew how to build a really strong brand, but I had no idea how to run a business.

“It was a really challenging time.”

Announcing the closure of her business in January 2019 on Instagram, despite the brand turning over $12 million in sales annually, Ms Wills shared her “utmost thanks” to Mr Bainbridge.

“You have celebrated with me in the victories and have held space for me, providing shelter when life should see me have to retreat in battling my own personal demons,” she wrote.

“I will be forever indebted to you for everything you have afforded me.”

‘I’m a victim of extortion’

Since the video of Mr Bainbridge appeared, the backlash has been swift.

By Wednesday, 9am, it was announced that Mr Bainbridge had quit the board of Tasmanian whiskey business, Lark Distilling, where he worked as the chief executive of the ASX-listed company.

Valuations from 2021 estimate the company recorded $16.5 million worth of revenue from the 2020 to 2021 financial year, reporting a rise of 123 per cent, however the company did suffer a blow to share prices in the aftermath of the scandal.

Mr Bainbridge’s resignation equated with a 21 per cent tumble, with share prices falling from $4.55 to a low of $3.48 on Wednesday morning. Currently, stocks have since risen slightly and are currently sitting at $3.88.

Former CEO of baby powder producer Bellamy’s Australia, Laura McBain has since stepped in as Lark Distilling’s interim managing director.

In a statement provided to news.com.au, Mr Bainbridge said he decided to resign in order to “reduce any reputational damage to Lark and to myself”.

“Although I consider myself a victim of a crime, I accept that I am also responsible for the circumstances I find myself in,” he said.

“Ultimately, I put myself in a situation I shouldn’t have been in. I’m a victim of extortion but that wouldn’t have occurred without my poor judgment.

“I am deeply remorseful for my own actions.”

jessica.wang@news.com.au



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