Sir Bryan's sound advice a knight to remember

TERRY HALL
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014

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OPINION: I've a collection of knights - real ones. It includes many of the historic giants of New Zealand industry - truly impressive people like builder Sir James Fletcher, his son industrialist Sir James Fletcher, brewery magnate Sir Henry Kelliher, farming leader Sir Ron Trotter, transport and tourism innovator Sir Jack Newman, and Sir Bryan Todd, a key figure in developing the oil and gas industry.

Scots-born Jim Fletcher was the strongest personality, and a stirring public speaker; his son, also Jim, was so unassuming it was a shock to see his scarlet Rolls Royce in the company carpark; Henry Kelliher was tall, angular and easy to talk to, reflecting his beginnings as a beer salesman in Dunedin; Ron Trotter was a complex character with an extraordinary ability to walk up to anyone at crowded shareholder and farmer meetings and call them by their first names; Jack Newman's relaxed manner reflected his years in top cricket and rugby: it did him no harm in expanding the family tourism business to road and air transport.

These businessmen (and many other men and women who should have got gongs but were overlooked, possibly because of powerful enemies like Sir Robert Muldoon) played a major role in creating today's New Zealand.

You can't collect knights like toy soldiers or stamps, and tidily store them together. My "collection" is housed in memories of a lengthy career in business journalism.

Even so it would be great fun to imagine what would happen if you mixed up powerful characters with firm opinions like property man Sir Bob Jones and the amiable Sir Rod Weir with former beer baron Sir Douglas Myers, investment figures Sir Ron Brierley and Sir Selwyn Cushing with wines served by George Fistonich. So my "collection" is really a catalogue of encounters with memorable figures including Sir John Todd, of the Todd Corporation, one-time food magnate Sir Pat Goodman, former Telecom head Sir Roderick Deane and dairy leader Sir Dryden Spring.

Other memorable figures include the late property man Sir Arthur Williams, Sir Richard Carter of Carter Holt Harvey, and motor industry figure Sir Walter Norwood.

Meeting people was my job.

Not everyone I met was a paragon of virtue. Some, whose names I haven't mentioned, ended up in jail. Others possibly should have. Most enjoyed a drink; I never found a wowser among them.

Only one tried to put me straight on something he felt strongly about: I'm finally getting round to the point of this column.

The ever-so-tactful critic was the courteous Sir Bryan Todd, one of the founders of the Todd oil and motor industry.

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A staunch Wellingtonian, Sir Bryan was a key figure in the New Zealand oil industry, and was deeply involved in the searches that led to the discovery of the Kapuni, Maui and McKee gas and oil fields.

It was 1981, the height of what turned out to be a shortlived boom in New Zealand oil stocks. Sir Bryan liked a chat and I had expected him to be positive about the flood of small investor money rushing into what seemed a never ending stream of new floats linked to soaring oil prices in the aftermath of the Iranian political upheavals. As business editor of The Dominion we reported every bit of news we could about the boom. There was enormous excitement: most expected New Zealand to become the Saudi Arabia of the Pacific. Investors wanted progress reports on their drilling.

Sir Brian stopped me in the street and said we should tone down the coverage. "Chances are tiny they'll find anything and investors stand to lose a lot of money," he said.

I didn't follow his advice - part of a newspapers' job is to print the news people want to read. However, history shows his views were sound.

Sage advice is always valuable: there is an enormous appetite for it, especially at present when global financial markets are passing through one of their periodic nervous spells. This has been brought to a head by Wall Street and other major markets setting records raising the question: What next?

Investors are struggling to make sense of contradictory theories due to worrying international issues, the coming election, and where interest rates and sharemarkets are headed.

In such a situation, Sir Bryan's clear-headed experience, born of experience, would be interesting.

Footnote: I'm sorry if readers have found this to be an unusually self-indulgent column. Journalists are by-standers and recorders of people and events, but few get around to recording the tittle tattle of their work.

- The Dominion Post

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