A cheerleader for his country

16:00, Feb 15 2012
Lloyd Morrison
LEUKAEMIA BATTLE: Lloyd Morrison died early this morning.

As a young man taking his first steps to the top of New Zealand's business world, Lloyd Morrison joked about the heights to which he hoped to rise.

"You could spot immediately that he was going to be a success," says business commentator Brian Gaynor, who gave Mr Morrison a summer job at stockbrokers Daysh Renouf while he was still a student at the University of Canterbury in the 1970s, and his first job, as an investment analyst, at Jarden & Co in the early 1980s.

"He was very determined," Mr Gaynor said. "He always joked, `Gaynor, I'm going to own a Lear Jet by the time I'm 30'."

Mr Morrison never did own a Lear, but he went one better, founding Wellington investment company Infratil, which counts several airports among its assets.

Mr Morrison revolutionised infrastructure investment in New Zealand, establishing a business model that enabled small shareholders to invest in power companies, airports and other infrastructure, epitomised by his creation in 1994 of Infratil.

It was floated with capital of $50 million and rapidly built up an impressive portfolio of investments, including Wellington, Auckland, Glasgow, Kent and Lubeck (Germany) Airports, Trustpower, and NZ Bus.

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The company recently bought the Shell service station network in New Zealand, and is valued at $1.2 billion. In last year's NBR rich list, Mr Morrison's personal wealth was put at $100 million.

Mr Morrison was equally known as a leading cheerleader for New Zealand enterprise, culture and national identity. Many of his business dealings were motivated as much by a desire to see Kiwi assets and companies remain in local ownership as they were by a bid to boost profits.

In 2000, he stood against the merger of the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges, leading a campaign that thwarted the move, and eventually ended up as deputy of the New Zealand exchange.

He also spoke out against plans, later blocked by regulatory authorities and the High Court, for an alliance between Air New Zealand and Qantas in 2002. He was accused of self-interest, given Infratil's holdings in Wellington Airport and the prospect of reduced income should the deal proceed.

He freely acknowledged the conflict, but insisted his opposition was driven by a genuine concern about the loss of competition and the resulting damage to New Zealand – views later endorsed when the Commerce Commission rejected the deal, a decision upheld by the High Court.

In 2004, Mr Morrison ran a high-profile, though ultimately failed, campaign to change the New Zealand flag, insisting that the country had come a long way from its colonial origins and it was time to select a symbol that better represented its newfound independence and place in the world.

His loyalty to Wellington, the city he called home, was most recently manifested through his membership of the consortium that bought the Phoenix football team last year.

Hugh Richmond Lloyd Morrison was born in Palmerston North on September 18, 1957, one of five boys in a family of six children.

His father was the chairman of the local newspaper, the Manawatu Standard, and Lloyd, as he was known for most of his life, was educated at Wanganui Collegiate before he enrolled at the University of Canterbury, where he graduated with a law degree with honours.

After his start at Jarden & Co – now First NZ Capital – Mr Morrison took his first prominent role in the mid-1980s, in charge of the London-based tourism investment company Omnicorp, a subsidiary of the Chase Corporation.

Disaster struck in 1987, however, when the Wall Street crash sent shock waves around the world. Though Omnicorp itself was prepared for the worst, Chase was not. The company was sold out from under him and his job disappeared.

He returned to Wellington where, in 1988, he set up Morrison & Co, which began advising investors in privatised infrastructure throughout Australasia.

Infratil was one of the world's first listed infrastructure investment funds when it was created in 1994, and it has since acquired assets around the world. In early 2009, he was diagnosed as having acute myeloid leukaemia.

He told the Listener in 2010 that his chances of survival were just 14 per cent.

A handy social rugby player and a cross-country runner, he threw himself into trying to find a cure with the same enthusiasm that he had approached his business career.

He sought treatment at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, a world leader in the field, and spent most of 2009 there. He returned there in October last year. At least one member of his family stayed with him at all times.

Mr Morrison jealously guarded his and his family's privacy – earning him the nickname "Mystery" – but, in the 2010 Listener interview, he gave some insight into his handling of his illness and his decision to travel to the other side of the world to try to find a cure.

"If I die in six months, then you'd say, well, that wasn't really worthwhile, but if I live another 10 years, I will actually look back on this being a really positive life-changing experience for me.

"I was always happy and fulfilled before, but [the leukaemia] took me into areas that I wouldn't have gone into.

"It put me under different pressures, made me react to people differently, feel differently about life, appreciate the moment more. I just feel better off for it. It's testing, it's good to be tested."

Fairfax Media