2012 ARN Hall of Fame inductee, Nick Verykios, is a rock’n’roll survivor, poet, Buddhist and philanthropist, as well as co-founder of the $250 million Distribution Central. This is his story.
On the wall behind Nick Verykios’ desk in the St Leonard’s offices of Distribution Central, is a framed poster of the 2002 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame of legendary and definitive US punks, The Ramones. It is signed by three members of the band. Only the signature of its beanstalk lead singer Joey - who was dead by the time the band was inducted - is missing. Towards the bottom of the poster, a cover has been neatly placed on the poster. It comes from a copy of the band’s ridiculously rare first demo tape. It’s so hard to find, it’s almost priceless. On that plain white cover is Joey’s signature.
The tape is safely tucked away elsewhere.
On the main wall, Jim Morrison, the long dead lead singer of quintessential US rock band and psychedelic warriors, The Doors, smiles, enigmatic, almost God-like, as was his way, at any visitor that sits on one of the black leather couches.
Legendary US producer, Bruce Botnick, who helmed The Doors’ seminal LA Woman album, gave the photo to Verykios a decade or more ago.
There is no sign of any of his degrees. And Nick Verykios has them – a Bachelor of Commerce (Major in Marketing) from the University of NSW and a Corporate Director’s Graduate Diploma from the University of New England. But they don’t give out degrees in recognising and understanding of life. That, in many ways, is what Verykios is all about.
He talks a lot - because I ask him to - about his drive to help orphans, about his Buddhist beliefs and his relationship with the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, about his family and how on earth the $250 million Distribution Central he founded eight years ago with long-time partner and friend, Scott Frew, fits into the picture.
To understand all that and this 48-year-old rebel with a cause, you need to go back to the very early days, poverty, and, in particular, his first dream. It wasn’t of being a train driver or a pilot or racing car driver or any other little boy’s normal fantasy career.
“I came from a really poor environment. We were dog poor, I lived in a place with lots of people in it,” he said. “There were people there all the time. There were barbecues with lamb on a spit going all the time. Someone was a butcher, someone was a grocer, someone was fisherman, someone was this and that, everyone contributed. I had no idea we were poor because everybody else was - until I got to high school.
“I grew up in Rosebery and in our day Rosebery was the scum of the earth, unlike now. Across the road was Eastlakes, where they built this massive high rise. In my eyes it was 20-storeys. What I wanted to do when I was a kid was move from where I was into that building because I wanted to live somewhere where there wasn’t lots of people. It’s all I wanted to do. What I didn’t realise was that it was a block of Housing Commission flats.
“I didn’t care. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s when things started to go wrong for me. When I started to think that I needed to separate myself from everything. I was in and out of the wrong kinds of places.
“You really had to know how to fight well to survive the streets there. Just a lot of juvenile crime and that kind of crap. I just wanted to be free of everyone. That’s so crazy now because I hate being by myself because I don’t feel useful.
“That’s the softer bit. The harder bit was I wanted to be an achitect, to build things. But my dad was an orphan who spent all his time raising five sisters, who were all older than him, by singing in hash houses. He was a singer from an early age. He pushed me down that track so I learnt to sing operas when I was very young. Then all I wanted to do was become a musician so I became one.”
He was 17 when he joined his first band, US glam rockers Blue Passion in 1981, singing the higher registers. When he returned home, he joined Lung Slug which was put together to support grunge gods, Nirvana, when they toured Australia.
“I loved that band but it was manufactured so we didn’t really like each other but we wrote incredible songs. What is amazing is so many people still remember it.” He then went back to the US and played with a reformed Blue Passion, then Nasty Passion, before he moved on to another glam metal outfit, Alleycat Scratch.
Incidentally, its first album 1993’s Deadboys in Trash City is regarded as one of the better sleaze rock albums of that time, although I'm not sure whether Nick played on it.
Back in Australia, he also played with Wooden Heart and through it met legendary guitarist Deniz Tek.
“Around that time I stopped wanting to be a musician but I wanted to keep writing songs, writing poems. They got published through City Lights [founded in 1953 by the great beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin] in San Francisco.
"What I realised is you can be a musician, a songwriter, but you can be smart as well. It was Tek who made me realise ‘It’s cool to be at uni mate. Keep doing what you’re doing at uni, you’re doing well, despite yourself. You’re going to need it to fall back on because what if you are crap later on as a musician?’. That made me think, what happens if people stop wanting to come and see me? What happens if people stop enjoying my voice or my poems?”
While all this was going on, Verykios had, without knowing it, become a practising Buddhist. From the age of 21 he had been contemplating and meditating.
Drawing on the influence of several people including his mother who was a hardcore orthodox Christian (which Nick now sees as form of mystic Christianity), a university lecturer who ran flotation tank experiments, and Botnick, who was a practising Buddhist, Verykios arrived at a point where he realised that his purpose in life was “to stop people from wanting to kill themselves because they thought that what they were thinking was true”.
He started educating himself in psychology through his marketing degree. Somehow he ended up in the IT industry. He initially started writing copy for an advertising agency - “Instead of writing songs I was writing copy, it was the same thing”.
One of its clients was Movex which was the distributor of Casio amongst other things. Its management asked him to be head of marketing for the region which made sense to him as he was touring it a lot with Lung Slug. That got him into the corporate world. Then its general manager, Paul Heath (now CMO at Foxtel), left, got a job with Netcomm and soon after rang Verykios and asked him to join the company to commoditise the market.
“That gave me the money to start 1World in 1994. The reason I did was because I had to tour. And that’s how I got in my own business, distribution and IT,” he says.
“When we sold 1World in 1998, I ended up going into business with Scott [Frew] who was a good friend of mine. We met at Netcomm because Netcomm bought Micro Networks of which he was an owner. We hit it off, became good mates, didn’t know who swore the most, who was the craziest and so on.“
Frew needed a frontman for his business. Nick said “okay, let’s play” and joined LAN Systems. The rest as they say is history.
“I never wanted to be a something. I never wanted to be a somebody,” Verykios says. “I had this stuff in my head based on that almost hippy environment I grew up in, this one idea - I didn’t want to borrow anybody else’s dreams. I was the kid who didn’t want to be anybody else. I rebelled against a lot of things. I rebelled against my MBA. I didn’t take it because I didn’t like the way you could buy them.”
The answer is important because at it’s base is Verykios’ mantra – don’t borrow anybody else’s dream. It’s part of the weave that binds all these different Verykios careers and threads together including his long relationship with the Dalai Lama, who he first met in 1996.
At that time, Verykios was doing a lot of youth counselling with young girls and women who had attempted to commit suicide. The Dalai Lama had heard through his advisors that Verykios was successfully using a combination of Buddhism and psychology to help the girls.
“He asked me to write a book about how I do it. The problem is every single case is different. I’m lucky enough to be able to articulate what they need to know based on all this stuff that’s out there, that you can read about .So if they know about something and but don't necessarily realise it, then you can tell them what they already know. And because it’s theirs they’ll use it,” Verykios says.
“But for nearly 20 years the Dalai Lama’s been on my arse, ’Gotta write a book, gotta write a book, gotta write a book’. I can’t write the book. I can’t make it whole. And he says that’s the whole point. I know he’s trying to teach me something but my thick head can’t work it out yet and when it does I’ll write the book.”
Three years ago he, his wife and his daughter spent time with the spiritual leader in Dharamsala, the hill station in Himachal Pradesh, renowned for its large Tibetan community centred around the Dalai Lama’s activities.
“All that stuff that I do gives me the ingredients for what I need to do to create the right kinds of careers for people. You don’t create a $250 million company in eight years because Scott and I are really smart. Spending eight years bringing in people that you’ve already created careers for and then including them in a new phase of careers is what does it. We could die tomorrow and this place would still keep going.
Verykios says that what it all comes down to is that belief he has. “It's about trying to get everybody to understand the importance of not being a somebody. But that doesn’t mean don’t be a nobody. Don’t borrow anybody else’s dreams. Stop reading business books. Read biographies to be entertained by them, to be inspired by them, not to emulate them.”
Make a difference
His own dreams included the need to be able to make a difference. One way was to start building orphanages. When he sold 1World for the first time he was financially able to do so. He has now built four - one each in Cambodia and Vietnam, and two in India, handing them over to the respective governments to run once they are finished and up and running.
“When I was travelling from ages 18-24 to Africa and some Third World countries I just saw terrible stuff that shouldn’t be happening. I said to myself, ‘I’m a coward if I don’t do anything about it’. They were the noises in my head, the operating committee in my head. So I started to do something about it.
“The four orphanages have been handed over to the government and that’s the important point. The governments won’t start on their own but if you can make a hero of the government they will. “They will try and deter you until the point you’ve got the orphanage ready then they will take it over and say ‘thank you very much, look how good we are’.”
Verykios is planning his next orphanage for Myanmar (Burma) Why, Myanmar? Simply because it is so bad there.
“The orphans are monks and the way they are treated is just terrible,” he says.
Verykios admits though it is going to be most dangerous project he has tackled so far. He has been copping a lot of pressure from both his daughter and wife not to do it. “So I’ve got to find a way to make it not dangerous. Not find a way to not do it,” he says, pragmatically. Already, there may be a way where he doesn’t have to be front person. There are meetings to come in a few months time that will explore that possibility.
And then there’s ambition, that quiet conspirator somewhere inside us all. What has it got Verykios thinking? “Every day, I wake up and realise the future is not what it used to be. Tomorrow will be different circumstances. I don’t want to hold myself to anything but what I do want to do is more of this stuff.
“I do want to get to the point where I can do a closed five-year retreat and I’ll try to convince the Chinese government to allow me to do it in Tibet. It won’t be until my daughter has finished school. My wife’s expecting it. She knows it’s going to happen. Five years of freedom for her not having to deal with this lunatic. That’s what she says. I don’t think I’m a lunatic I think I’m a bloody saint.”
We both burst out laughing. It’s not arrogant, it’s just bloody funny. And it binds all the threads that are Nick Verykios perfectly.