Trade Me boss a saver not spender

Last updated 05:00 02/02/2014
Trade Me CEO Jon Macdonald
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
LESSON LEARNED: Trade Me CEO Jon Macdonald says Kiwis value money too highly rather than valuing our time.

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Jon Macdonald was promoted from within to head up Trade Me after founder Sam Morgan stepped down in 2007, having previously been the firm's chief technology officer. Since then Macdonald has taken the online powerhouse through its sharemarket listing. He tells Tom Pullar-Strecker he's a big KiwiSaver fan.

 

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

My dad's first job was at Massey University, and he worked there until he retired. Both my parents instilled an ethic that hard work and diligence meant financial security. I also remember the crazy interest rates of the early eighties - with government bonds at 20% interest and mortgages higher - I think that's led to me being pretty motivated to save cash and not take on too much debt.

What was your first paid work?

I inherited a paper round from my brother when I was really young, then took an after-school job with Hannah's Shoes in Palmerston North. Hannah's felt like hard work and not much fun at the time, but I certainly valued the independence that came from the paycheck and, in retrospect, it was as good a training as any to learn the basics of sales.

Do you think Kiwis in general have a healthy attitude to money, or is there anything about attitudes that concerns you?

I think there's a big opportunity with KiwiSaver, but a lot of people haven't properly considered how to manage that money to maximise the benefit they can get in retirement. It's a realistic and worthwhile ambition to change that over the next five years.

What was your best financial decision?

I did an OE over to London when the pound was ridiculously strong versus the New Zealand dollar. I had a great time, but also I saved a fair bit by doing contract work and living on the cheap, and I was able to bring back a nice nest-egg. That then made a good deposit for a house, which meant a leapfrogging along the mortgage interest treadmill.

What has been your biggest financial mistake?

I took an interest in the sharemarket when I was a kid, and went along to the local sharebroker with my dad to buy some shares with the money I'd saved. I bought some Brierley's and Fletcher Challenge shares, which were a couple of the biggest blue-chip stocks at the time. That was shortly before the 1987 crash, which was a hard lesson. I'm still a big fan of the capital markets, both for investors and help New Zealand's economy to grow, but I've never forgotten about the nature of economic cycles.

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What financial advice would you give to your children?

Don't buy crap you don't need, and understand the power of compounding returns. I remember that advice from my childhood, and living that in my student days and then when joining the workforce. It's simple, but it works.

Has your attitude to money changed through the years and if so, how?

From my job I have the privilege of knowing some people who are very rich, and it's clear that having lots of money is nice, but it doesn't solve all your problems - plus it creates a few new ones. So I expect less of money these days - the freedom and security that enough money can provide is really important, but beyond that I think we generally value money too highly, and we don't value our time enough.

Lots of Kiwis like a flutter. Do you gamble? What about a Lotto ticket?

I've always liked trying to understand the odds, and I remember doing a big project on blackjack at school. But it's the odds that turn me off gambling - the odds are usually stacked against the punter, and that's not for me.

What does the idea of retirement mean to you?

I don't think so much in terms of working until 65 then sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. I think there's a lot to be said for mixing up your career arrangements around your family and other things you want to achieve in life. For example, working like a dog while you're younger to get some financial position, and easing up in your middle years to make time for family and community, knuckling down again when the kids get older, and maybe extending part-time into retirement if you want.

- Sunday Star Times

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