Day One stories: How a migrant made his mark on Sydney’s skyline

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There are only a handful of Australians richer than Harry Triguboff. He's ranked as the country’s sixth wealthiest person with an estimated fortune of $6 billion.

Born in China to Russian Jewish parents, Harry was 14 when they fled civil war and escaped to Australia 

The strangest thing for me was that I saw so many European people. I've never seen so many - seen a few here and there but nothing from China," he says.

"And the next thing was the European people did manual work, which I didn't see them doing in China. I didn't imagine that European could do that type of work. I was very impressed that they could do everything that the Chinese used to do at home."

Over the years, these fellow migrants would form the bedrock of his company and their skills would lay the foundations for his multi-billion dollar fortune.

But he didn't hit pay dirt straight away.

On his father's advice, he dabbled in textiles in Israel and South Africa before settling back in Australia where he ran a taxi fleet, then a milkrun and even turned his hand to selling real estate.

"I think I was the world's worst salesman, but I was the best pupil. I learnt one thing - I learnt what people wanted and they could get. Because it's quite easy to get somebody who can sell well. It's difficult to find somebody who understands what he should produce. And that you only learn if you know what people can and want to do," he says.

On advice from a friend, he decided to develop a block of flats in Sydney's inner west.

In 1963 he bought a block of land and built eight small apartments.

He didn't know it back then but that modest development set in motion his trajectory and kick-started a trend in high-rise living which would change Australia's urban landscape.

Plenty of people told him his idea would never succeed.

"Well I proved to them they were wrong. And I stuck to my style. And later on when interest rates came down, then I started to build bigger apartments, because they could afford them. So I always connected to what people want and the money they can get. Of course now it's very good, we have the Chinese buyers - I never dreamt of that. Now I have 1.2 billion customers."

These days he builds skyscrapers and he acknowledges that Australia and the work ethic of its people played a major role in his success.

Were you born overseas? We'd love to hear about your first impression of Australia as a new migrant. Whatever your background, tell us your story in words, pictures or tweets. Contact us on sbsnews@sbs.com.au or via Twitter @SBSNews using the hashtag #Day1SBS

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