Tom Miser outside SAE in Byron Bay.
Tom Miser outside SAE in Byron Bay.

SAE media college sold for $300m

ENIGMATIC businessman Tom Misner has spoken out for the first time about the $300 million sale of his Byron Bay-based SAE Group, which was announced on Tuesday.

Mr Misner said he had no intention of slowing down to enjoy his new-found liquidity in Byron Bay and will stay on with SAE as the jet-setting president of its global operations for at least the next two years.

"You're talking to a guy that's got four ex-wives, 10 cars, two helicopters and a private jet - what do I care (about liquidity)?" he laughed.

"I'm staying on because it is very important for me, and (Navitas). I decided to sell to them because they didn't want to change anything because it works the way it is."

SAE is a major global provider of creative and media education, with 8000 students at 47 campuses in 19 countries. The group was snapped up this week by Navitas - Australia's largest provider of bridging courses for foreign students - in a $289 million deal not including real estate, though Mr Misner says it will be well above the $300 million mark once the details are hammered out.

Navitas expects the acquisition to be finalised by the end of January next year.

"The thing about the deal is SAE is now in the hands of a public company (and) from a student's point of view it's great because it gives SAE the backing of a public company with the vibe of a private company," Mr Misner said.

Mr Misner said it wasn't a hostile takeover and senior SAE management was happy with the deal - all staff have agreed to stay on.

"I just think I've taken (SAE) as far as I can and now it can grow to the next level - I'm with it for the next couple of years, then we'll see what happens," he said.

Mr Misner has been consistently derided in the national press for his unorthodox approach to education and business, but it is mostly water off a duck's back.

Old accusations of tax avoidance and student exploitation, and more recent ones of falsifying his true wealth (estimates vary from $280m to $500m), seem to bother the bemused mogul less than media reports this week describing him as a former cleaner and Byron Bay cafe owner.

"They make it sound cheap. Thirty-five years ago my then wife had a cleaning company and I used to help out, so yes, I did help clean. But I was also a mail boy in a big law firm, I also washed dishes, I also washed cars and I even manufactured garbage can lids, which is never mentioned," he said.

"But I've never owned a coffee shop - my brother owns the Byronian, so obviously I sit there in the morning and drink coffee."

So is he worth $280m or $500m?

"Um, no comment - I'm worth a lot more, but who cares, it's all telephone numbers after a while," he quipped.

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