Key book sheds new light on prime minister

Last updated 10:54 26/06/2014
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A new biography on Prime Minister John Key has revealed the excess he walked away from at investment firm Merrill Lynch and the hard-headed business style he's applied to his politics. 

The book, John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister, written by NZ Herald journalist John Roughan, gives a rare insight into a man once in line to head one of the world's largest investment banking firms.

"There were guys working for me ... on Mondays they'd say,' how was your weekend?' and I'd say, 'oh great, we took the kids to a duck pond, Saturday night we went out for dinner, what did you do?' They'd go, 'I took the Brazilian lap dancer over to the US on Concorde and had a bit of fun'," Key said.

Eventually, he would walk away to try his hand at leading a small country.

An excerpt from John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister, details Key's reasoning behind his success: knowing when to stay or walk.

"Most people, [Key] explains, take their profits too early and cut their losses too late," writes Roughan.

Key likened his success as a trader to the property market.

"If they buy a house for $500,000 and a month later somebody offers them $600,000, it is human nature to take the money and dine out on their good fortune.

"Conversely, if they put that $500,000 house on the market and the best offer it brought was $350,000, they would hold onto it."

At Merrill Lynch, Key profiled the traders who worked under him by the profits they made, or didn't.

"They got out too soon on good days and never cut their losses quickly enough on the others," he said.

He's arguably applied the same principles to his politics, revealing in the biography he fired former Ministers Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley, for "nothing much in particular".

Of Wilkinson's exit interview, Key said: "[I said] 'Look, you've done a great job as a minister, but it's over.' She said, 'What have I done wrong?' I said, 'Nothing. You have done four years and I want to refresh.' I said the same thing to Phil."

The book goes into great detail of Key's decision to carve a career in politics. It's well documented Key told now-wife Bronagh of his intentions to be prime minister in their early years together.

Bronagh has said she might well have rolled her eyes at the declaration then, but after Key amassed a fortune thought to be worth $50 million and on his 40th birthday, he decided it was time to revisit the boyhood dream.

Roughan writes: "Had Key stayed at Merrill Lynch he would have been, according to a former boss, Gavin Walker, 'without doubt a candidate to be their global chief executive. He was in that echelon just below'. But Key had made up his mind to go. He had made about 50 times the million dollars of his childhood ambition."

Key said there were three reasons behind his decision to return to New Zealand from his career based in London and New York.

"First: in our hearts we wanted to live in New Zealand. Stephie was 8, Max 6. Max had never lived in New Zealand and Stephie had spent most of her life away," he said.

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"Secondly: I absolutely wanted to do it [politics]. I used to say to people, I didn't want to die wondering. I didn't want to sit back one day and think, I could've, might've, should've.

"Third: We had enough money. Okay, we could have made tens of millions more, but we had enough."

* John Roughan's book John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister, is on bookshelves from today. The biography was "unofficial", so Key was not allowed to read it until it had already gone to print.



- Stuff


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