In most cases, great success is the fruit of enduring determination, resilience and self-belief.
Domain CEO Antony Catalano - popularly known as “The Cat” - exemplifies all of the above qualities, and his incredible corporate comeback story is proof that anything is possible with a vision and some hard grind.
Catalano has become a walking headline of late, as a bidding war unfolds between American private equity firms TPG and Hellman & Friedman for the ownership of Fairfax Media.
If Fairfax accepts a bid from Texas billionaire David Bonderman’s TPG, Catalano is predicted to become CEO of the 176-year-old business and top dog in one of Australia’s leading media companies.
To say that Catalano has come a long way in the last decade would be a colossal understatement.
The former journalist’s career came crashing down when he was made redundant in 2008, after 18 years and six days at The Age.
The shock news may have been enough to send somebody else into a spiral of chaos, but Catalano came out on top, becoming the boss of Domain Group, a property portal and real estate advertising business estimated at around $2 billion.
Ironically, Domain is now central to the survival of Fairfax, the same company which sent Catalano packing nine years ago.
Catalano’s journey begins in a workshop back in 1985, where, having been unsuccessful in his pursuit of a career in journalism, he was working as a fitter and turner.
One day, out of the blue, the phone rang.
On the other end of the line was an invitation for an interview with The Herald and Weekly Times.
It was Catalano’s lucky day – somebody had been offered a job and had knocked it back.
Scrubbing the oil and dirt off his skin, Catalano rushed to the Southbank office where his career in the media industry was about to be born.
Starting the next day as a copy boy, Catalano fetched coffee, cigarettes and dry cleaning for the more senior staff, unknowingly paving his path to success with each errand.
Catalano then did his time compiling sports reports for about 18 months before he decided he was ready for a real challenge and hungry for more responsibility.
In 1987, he was sent to the police round and his first night as a journalist was a baptism of fire to say the least.
It was Sunday, August 9.
The night of the Hoddle Street massacre, when 19-year-old Julian Knight shot dead seven people and injured 19 others in the Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill.
“I was just about to walk out the door when I heard reports of shots fired in Hoddle Street,” Catalano recalled.
“Had I been in the job six months longer, I probably would’ve ignored it and walked out because you heard that on the police scanner every few hours and it always ended up being a car backfiring.”
Catalano and his colleague jumped into a car and arrived at the scene as Knight was still on the run from police.
It was before mobile phones were around, and the budding journalist spent the whole night knocking on doors and asking locals if he could use their landlines to cover the tragic event as it unfolded.
“It was a pretty dramatic introduction to journalism,” Catalano said.
“Melbourne had been innocent up until then.”
That one horrific event had two separate outcomes: it changed the way Melburnians went about their lives, and it launched Catalano into his career as a journalist.
It wasn’t long before Fairfax approached him and he was appointed The Age’s night shift police reporter, before working his way to the subeditors’ bench.
It was around this time that Catalano’s relationship with real estate blossomed – and it was thanks to another relationship.
Catalano’s love interest at the time was sharing a house with Scott McElroy, now one of Hocking Stewart’s longest serving directors.
“He got me interested in the property market and one day, we decided to go quarters in a warehouse and convert it,” Catalano recalled.
“It was about $115,000 each plus the renovation work and we ended up with a groovy warehouse in Windsor and made a small profit.”
Catalano’s property-savvy mind and remarkable fervour landed him the role of The Age’s property editor, and it was during that time that he made myriad crucial connections with real estate agents, many of whom would come in handy years later when his world was flipped upside down.
Thinking back to that fateful day in 2008, when he was told to pack his things and leave The Age, Catalano is surprisingly understanding of the decision.
“In retrospect, I was one of the 550 people to go that day,” he reasoned.
“I was the first but not the only one.”
Catalano had a non-compete agreement which meant he wasn’t able to work for six months following his redundancy.
Retreating to his holiday house in Byron Bay, Catalano began putting his feelers out for job opportunities as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the global financial crisis had just struck and employees were dropping like flies, so it wasn’t an ideal time to be job-hunting.
Catalano got so desperate at one stage that he contemplated using part of his redundancy payout to purchase a coffee shop in Byron Bay and become a journo-turned-barista.
Not ready to face defeat, Catalano returned to Melbourne and began conjuring up a genius plan.
With $1.84 in the bank, he decided to produce and publish a Melbourne-based real estate magazine to circulate for free in the suburbs.
At that time, Catalano had been seeing his now wife Stefanie for several months, and she lent him some of her savings in the belief that he could pull the grand scheme off.
His parents also loaned him some money and he teamed up with four real estate agents whom he’d become friendly with during his time as property editor at The Age, and who became major shareholders in the publication.
A further 11 real estate agents became significant advertisers and also enjoyed a small shareholding in the business. They were followed by another 30 or so agents.
Catalano believed that by becoming shareholders, the real estate agents would be incentivised to advertise in a product that they also owned.
It was a win-win situation if he could pull it off...and he did.
Launched in April 2010, under Catalano’s Metro Media Publishing (MMP), the first issue of The Weekly Review comprised 292 pages, 220 of which were real estate ads.
The magazine made a profit of $256,000 in the first week and Catalano was back in business.
Fairfax’s Melbourne Weekly lost around 92 per cent of its advertisers to The Weekly Review and as a result, the publication’s revenue disappeared within a week.
Ironically, The Melbourne Weekly was decimated by its new rival and Fairfax took a turn for the worse.
Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood returned to the company in 2010 after having also been made redundant six years earlier.
When Hywood stepped in as the big boss later that year, things changed.
Hywood was Catalano’s boss in the early 2000s, and was the man who moved him out of the world of journalism and into advertising.
“When I was made redundant he told me, ‘don’t worry mate, they only sack the good ones’,” Catalano laughed.
The day Hywood was appointed CEO, he made a phone call to Catalano.
"I'm ringing to try to fix this mess you've created for us," Hywood said with a hint of humour.
After a year of negotiations, Fairfax paid $35 million and merged 32 community titles into MMP, in exchange for half of the business.
In 2015, Fairfax went on to purchase the other half of MMP for $72 million.
The same year, Catalano became CEO of Domain and, as they say, the rest is history.
Now we know the legend of The Cat, but what about the man behind the story?
Catalano owes a large part of his success to his parents, Anna and Antonio.
“Mum and dad came out here on a boat with nothing but a chest which was mum’s dowry,” he explained.
“They created an environment where I grew up thinking anything was possible.”
Catalano was raised in an italianissima family, and barely spoke a word of English until he began primary school.
Antonio hails from Bari in Puglia, home to the original Santa Claus, St Nicholas.
“They lived right on the edge of the water and my dad always jokes that he could fish from his bedroom window,” Catalano said.
The second youngest of 18 children, Antonio was one of only two brothers who carried the Catalano name to Australia – the other was Francesco Catalano, founder of Adriatic Furniture.
The Catalanos weren’t alone in Australia for long, however, and the name soon spread like wildfire.
“At the rate we’re breeding, half the population will be named Catalano by 2050,” The Cat chuckled.
Having just celebrated his 50th birthday, Catalano is father to eight children of his own, aged between one and 26 years of age.
“Lots of children mean lots of noise,” he said.
“It feels very Italian at my place!”
His son Jordan is also about to make him a grandfather for the first time, as he and his partner Jess prepare to welcome a baby any day now.
It seems that Catalano is not only continuing the family name here in Australia, but he could also be about to permanently etch it into the history of one of Australia’s largest media organisations.
What’s more, he's doing an exceptional job of proving his parents right that anything really is possible.