Face Value: Work ethic was early lesson

Last updated 05:00 24/08/2014
Simon Moutter
DAVID UNWIN/Fairfax NZ

PALMY LAD: Simon Moutter grew up in Highbury.

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Simon Moutter doesn't mind a small flutter every now and again but growing up in a household where money was hard-earned also taught him to never get carried away. He's been a part-owner in race horses over the years "and I enjoy the odd wager on a Saturday afternoon over a beer," he said.

The chief executive of Spark New Zealand has had a busy couple of weeks as the company beds in a change of name and image.

Moutter is a Telecom man of old. He was chief operating officer before a four-year stint as chief executive of Auckland Airport before the telco wooed him back as chief executive in 2012.

How financially savvy do you consider yourself?

As soon as I started my first business not long out of university I realised I needed to have a better handle on its incomings and outgoings. So having that owner's mindset was a fundamental aspect of developing my financial literacy - knowing what all your costs are, knowing what customers value and learning to manage cash flow. All absolutely vital.

What was your first paid work?

My first paid jobs were in my early teenage years, fanging about on a bike delivering papers, or pushing a trolley doing the milk rounds. That kept me in pocket money for a few years.

My first real job was working at the local fish and chip shop as a student. Captain Delicious was a bit of an institution in my hometown of Palmerston North, and I worked there for six years scrubbing out deep fryers to support myself through university.

I learnt a helluva lot from the owners about the importance of hard work.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

I grew up in a working class suburb of Palmy called Highbury. Like many families, my parents both worked more than one job each to feed the family and strive for a better life for their kids. That work ethic rubbed off on me and fundamentally shaped my attitudes. It taught me that if I wanted something I had to earn it. It also taught me that what you save for is important.

In the case of my parents, they worked hard for their kids. The notion of working hard for something more enduring and less selfish than a new bike really struck me. The idea of investing in something bigger than yourself brings real meaning to your efforts.

What's the biggest lie about money that people routinely tell or fall for?

There is a widespread lack of understanding of the true nature of risk, relative to reward. That's meant many New Zealand investors getting sadly burnt with what were, in reality, high-risk finance company investments that were perceived - and in some cases presented - as being lower risk than they were.

And the converse is also true, good solid lower-risk investments are not attracting the investment appetite that they should, despite the fact that some of them offer very good yields relative to other options.

Are you a collector?

My wife Sophie and I are not really collectors - at least not in an investment sense. We have some modest pieces of art at home but we bought them more for personal enjoyment than investment potential.

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What has been your best investment decision?

I was fortunate enough to make a modest investment in Graeme Hart's reinvention of the Burns Philp business in the 1990s.

I saw that more as an investment in Graeme and in my belief that he could deliver. I admire his ability to narrow the focus on what creates value, and then invest in the right people and capability to make a difference to the outcomes of those value drivers.

While not for one minute claiming I'm anywhere near as good at that as Graeme, it's the approach I used to lead a change at Auckland Airport that saw it investing much more heavily in tourism and trade development.

What has been your biggest investment mistake?

The recent Wolf of Wall Street movie reminded me of a bad experience I once had in the early 1990s with a small investment recommended by one of the so-called ‘bucket shop brokers' in the US. It was a high-energy sales process with a quick turnover of investments and of course, I lost most of my investment quite quickly.

It taught me a lesson about taking the time to really know what it is you are investing in, and to think about investing over a longer-term rather than looking for quick wins.

How do you sum up your feelings towards spending?

I'm not a natural spender. I think my personal upbringing and business background is a contributing factor, in that I'm careful with what and how I spend.

Are you in KiwiSaver and if so, which fund?

I'm a very strong advocate for Kiwisaver. I have a Kiwisaver plan via Craigs...given I've still got a fair chunk of my working life in front of me, I spread my Kiwisaver across a number of international growth-oriented funds.

Gambling is something of a national past-time. Do you like a flutter?

I'm quite competitive by nature, so I don't mind having a bit of friendly competitive tension in the mix. However, it's very small scale.

I recently put a modest $50 wager on the Netherlands to win the recent FIFA World Cup, but I saw it as a reasonably fair value investment - I got excellent odds of 25 to 1 at the start of the competition.

I also buy a Lotto ticket every week with a good friend, as part of a long-standing ritual.

- Sunday Star Times

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