James Mawhinney is an Australian-born businessman and entrepreneur. He is passionate about creating businesses that solve real-world problems and undertaking large-scale initiatives with global reach.
James was born in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1984 to parents with Northern Irish and Ukrainian heritage. Resilience is in his DNA.
He was appointed School Captain and Faction Captain at primary school, and went on to hold various leadership positions at Hale School. Hale is one of Western Australia’s leading private boy’s schools renowned for developing some of Australia’s top businessmen including Andrew Forrest (CEO Fortescue Metals group), Richard Goyder (former CEO of Wesfarmers) and Lang Hancock (Hancock Prospecting).
James was exposed to business throughout his youth. He worked in one of his family’s businesses on weekends sweeping floors and helping prepare deliveries, and would often sit-in on discussions between his Father and his business associates when they came to his home.
Around the age of 10 he vividly remembers attending the IBM building in Perth where his Father had invited him to a presentation being given on a new invention called – ‘the internet’. He remembers the presenter saying that “one day you will be able to order a pizza on here”, and from that day his fascination with the power of the internet began.
James excelled academically scoring in the top 0.85% of his state which enabled him to go onto study a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Western Australia. He chose to major in Investment Finance as he had been investing since his early teens and understood how capital could fuel business growth.
Within a week of leaving school James flew to Chicago (while his friends were busy celebrating the end of their school days) and was introduced by his Father to the president a US technology company. The company, operated at the heart of the search engine industry working with clients including Yahoo! and Microsoft. This was before Google became the world’s largest search engine.
Over the next few months James was immersed in learning ways to grow businesses using technology. He quickly learned how to evaluate how consumers searched online, how to drive targeted traffic to websites, convert traffic to enquiries and ultimately attract customers.
This skillset enabled him to assist his Father with the establishment of one of Australia’s first online marketing companies, in 2001. The business secured contracts with globally recognised companies including GoDaddy (the world’s largest domain name registration company) and iEntry (one of the world’s leading business email newsletter distribution companies) to provide white-label services to their customers internationally.
This experience gave James first-hand experience doing business internationally, from a young age. This entailed developing an appreciation of cultural differences, exchange rates, time zones, and the rapidly changing world of technology. Over the following decade James devised strategies for more than 2,000 businesses, internationally and across a diverse range of industries, giving him a deep level of understanding of the mechanics of what makes a successful business.
He went on to acquire the business from his parents and eventually sold it to a listed company eighteen months later, for an 8-figure stake in the parent company. He was engaged by the company to grow the group through merger and acquisition activity after presenting a plan to the board that would see the group obtain a substantial competitive advantage by acquiring complimentary assets.
$250 million raised in less than four years
Between late 2016 and March 2020 James’ scaled up his private investment group's activities. He launched a series of debt instruments and raised over $250 million over the following 3.5 years, mainly from high net worth Australian clients.
At the time interest rates were at record lows. A significant number of financiers were prepared to move away from the banks to generate more income on their capital.
Between 2016 and 2020 over 750 Australians chose to subscribe to the debt instruments offered by James’ group - Mayfair 101.
This funding enabled Mayfair 101 to scale its portfolio to hold 28 distinct private equity investments across 11 countries, five currencies and 15 sectors. The group employed over 70 staff and had operations in London, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Geelong Mission Beach and Queensland.
The group had oversight of two independent trustees, operated under the authority of two independent Financial Services License holders, had its products structured by experienced legal practitioners, and every lender was paid on time, every time without fail.
A particularly notable private equity investment was the acquisition of Dunk Island and 230 properties on mainland Mission Beach, in September 2019. James had a vision to redevelop the region into a tourism mecca after it had been wiped out by cyclone Yasi in 2011.
The project was set to create employment for over 10,000 Australians and contribute over $1.6 billion to the local economy. Plans were drawn up for an integrated community development on Dunk Island, a yacht harbour on the mainland to provide much-needed marina berthing facilities, and a full spectrum of accommodation which leveraged the ownership of over 200 individually titled properties.
Mayfair 101’s investment in the region saw property prices increase more than 25% within six months, a substantial gain considering, the group had $230 million worth of property contracted in the region before the increase. James’ strategy to acquire the properties at the bottom of the market incognito and prior to announcing the successful acquisition of Dunk Island, had been executed to perfection.
Mayfair 101 completed the acquisition of Dunk Island and 130 properties, commenced pouring concrete to build a bar on Dunk Island, and barged across heavy equipment to demolish down the old resort.
Everything was going according to plan. The community was supportive, the local and state government bodies were supportive, and Mayfair’s lenders valued the fact they were earning a meaningful return whilst having their funding being put to good use.
Stoush with Australia’s regulator
What happened next is something movies are made of.
In April 2020 Australia’s corporate regulator took steps to freeze James’ business. They attacked the group by freezing its normal operations based on a series of conspiracies that had been floated by competitors.
This triggered a series of defaults including more than twenty court cases and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of damage
Misinformation played a significant part in the regulator’s mis-assessment of his business. It has taken him more than three years, tens of millions of dollars and a substantial amount of time away from his family and friends to make this situation right.
A change in fortune
In late 2022 three Full Court judges found that James was denied procedural fairness by the regulator, overturning a 20-year fundraising ban and remitting the case to be re-heard.
It was found by the judges that ASIC had brought a case against James that was quote - “mistaken” and “absurd”.
Despite the win, the damage had already been done. Dunk Island was repossessed and sold, two thirds of his group had insolvency practitioners appointed incurring millions in fees, and James’ personal reputation had been heavily damaged by unrelenting recycled stories in the media.
Contrary to what has been said in the media, there have been no losses incurred by anyone other than James. The instruments each lender subscribed to still exist, are earning interest, and are capable of being repaid in time. Kismet Group has pledged its support for Mayfair to ensure every lender is made whole.
Pressure creates diamonds
James’ perseverance against all odds has delivered him a couple of very special opportunities. Those outlined in the ‘Initiatives’ section of this website would not be possible if it weren’t for enduring and learning from the situation he has faced since 2020.
Those initiatives are the culmination of James remaining calm, optimistic, and seeing opportunity amid a tumultuous situation. It has sharpened his thinking on what he can do to help others faced with misinformation challenges, trust and safety concerns, and uniform access to investments.
As these businesses come online those that use their services can look back and have an appreciation of the blood, sweat and tears that went into their development. Against all odds they have been created to benefit millions of people globally, which is at the heart of what James and Kismet Group has set out to achieve.