Richard John Rogers Interview

Today is 16th October 2017. I’m interviewing Richard Rogers of Havelock North. Richard is a retired wool manager, formerly with London Wool Brokers. Richard, would you like to tell us something about your family, and the wool broking industry?

Well, my parents go back to 1928 when my father came to New Zealand from Brighton, London … father being a solicitor that went to London legally on the train. He came and tried to develop into the farming scene.

He eventually married Marjorie, who was a descendant of the Logan family of Tamumu, Waipawa. They owned an eleven-hundred-acre property just over the bridge as you go towards the coast … very good rolling country which was farmed by her brother, John, who in turn eventually sold half the property in 1938, which my mother benefited from. They bought a property here in McHardy Street – a three-quarter acre property – had one house on it in those days … extended out close to the Hereworth swimming pool.

My father taught at Heretaunga School, which turned into Hereworth in the thirties, and eventually came into the Public Relations of Napier, doing Ideal Homes Exhibitions in 1952. My father was George Edward Godfrey Rogers, and he had a Cambridge degree – Honours in English – and went to the First World War under age, and eventually came to New Zealand because he could see an opportunity to get on and further his development.

My mother was Marjorie Logan. The Logan family owned … initially her parents owned just the Tamumu eleven hundred acres, but previous to that there were three brothers, and they owned most of the land round Tamumu in Waipawa. The eleven hundred acres was a very valuable property, but farming didn’t return very much during the thirties, between the wars.

My sister, Ann, is four years older than myself. She went to Dunedin and did a Home Science degree and ended up working in Wellington as a Dietician, married Dixon Wright who was a rural field cadet, and they moved north to Auckland. He continued his farm advisory business within the Government, eventually retired at fifty-eight, took on World Bank contracts and did farm advisory in Uruguay, and eventually came back after ten years and bought a very good dairy farm on the northern boundary of Hamilton – eventually sold it and retired. They have two daughters.

My brother, Godfrey, is eighteen months older than me, and he has virtually proceeded through Wattie’s as a computer consultant. Jim Wattie sent him to Dunedin to do a degree, or learn something about computers. And they bought a Halliwell computer. And he went from there to General Foods as a Distributing Manager, and set up the computer system in Wattie’s and General Foods, and retired from the data … AA business in Auckland.

My family – I got married in ‘63 to Juliette Robinson. Her father was a Sales Manager for Tourist Motors. She studied ballet and was sent to England, or London, to the Ballet School. And her parents insisted that she had a trade or a job, and she was Private Secretary to Walt Disney for three or four years in London. And they had a great time, returned to New Zealand, and she came and worked with me in London Woolbrokers.

We had a very successful marriage and produced two children. Grant, being a bright boy, ended up doing medicine and staying on in Dunedin to continue his open-heart surgery, which he pulled out of after four years due to working twenty-four/seven, and left [with] the responsibility to run the ward on his own. Rang me one day to say that he couldn’t continue, that he would not survive ‘til forty. And so he stopped, and I went down and picked up a BMW that was given to him by one of his patients for successfully keeping him alive.

But he went on from there to [??] to an MBA which was quite an experience, and decided to do the business side of medicine. He very successfully was appointed to Suva Private Hospital which he ran for three years, and rebuilt. It cost them $6 million to build the hospital, and within a three-year period he’d upgraded it to such an extent, making a substantial profit, that they sold it for $12 million to the Pacific Banking Group.

And then he came back to New Zealand and went to Wellington and produced a lovely daughter, Mia, who’s now ten and doing exceptionally well at school. And he moved to Australia, to Bendigo, which was [is] a hundred miles north of Melbourne. From there he transferred to … oh, they built a new hospital for $600 million which he ran for eight months, and challenged the Board as he was not given the top job of Chief Medical [Officer] of Health for the hospital … virtually ran the hospital for eight months. The challenge was contested by another guy with more experience, so he moved from Bendigo to Tweed Heads and has been running the hospital there very successfully.

Grant has continued his medical career – he’s been in Tweed Heads for quite a while. And they suggested he took [take] an apartment in Kingscliff, which is about ten minutes from the hospital on the coast, and it’s the most beautiful place with no high-rise buildings and a very friendly retired settlement. Recently he was selected from a group to extend the databank of the hospital. They call it ‘eHealth’, and he’s been given the job to do the Medical Advisory with a chemist. They have got six computer programmers that have been working for eighteen months trying to perfect a national scheme with a budget of $200 million. And he now flies weekly to Sydney to his office, and has just completed a pilot scheme to standardise the computer system within New South Wales, which is a hundred hospitals. He’s been around them all in the last four months making sure that they have got confidence in the new system, and hopes in the near future to extend it to Australia. It is a very challenging job but he is very good with people. And confidence is required in the individual hospitals to go ahead and work with them rather than against them.

My daughter is Larissa – Grant is forty-five, Larissa’s forty-three. She did a [an] accounting course at Massey … from four years in the travel industry … decided to do accounting which was ideal to her makeup. She ended up getting a job with Richmond’s here, and worked the cattle schedule by the week and presented it, working the sales and purchases of meat to work a schedule for four o’clock on Friday. The biggest problem was to get the information from the eight freezing works on time. This was quite a challenge.

And she went on from there when Richmond’s moved out. They went to London – she married Justin Lawrence who was a computer man who ran Wattie’s computer for quite some five or six years – and eventually decided to go to England. They’d been over there previously, but to go and work on a two-year contract … he left Wattie’s and they were keen that he should come back, so they released him on a contract for two years. They went over to London and they took a few dollars with them … were able to get a very good Queensway apartment. Just before they left she sent an email to an HR guy in London who rang her back at half past ten and suggested that if the CV was correct, that he got the Diageo Managing Director to ring Larissa the next night and in turn suggested that she went and saw them. She was flying on Wednesday, and she made an appointment to see them on Friday morning for a coffee, and “don’t go and see anybody else”. She ended up as a top accountant for Diageo, eventually with a budget of £120 million to build storage for Johnnie Walker whisky, to mature it from a ten to twenty-year maturity to combat the Asians using their name. It was a very successful venture, and she did the accounting for the team that built the stores. And they were very aggressive, and the stores were very successful and the scheme worked out. She had a job which meant that she was able to have a satellite computer and do her work from home most of the time.

Her husband, Justin, worked for a consulting company who eventually gave him a job to standardise the Johnson baby powder business throughout Europe. And his first job was in London, and then he was made Manager of the Italian … Rome … office, and as he was the Manager he flew home at the weekends. And if he couldn’t get home Larissa would fly down, so they had a bit of time. They’ve lived in Rome and Switzerland and seen Europe within the two year period – a wonderful experience.

He came home and worked on with Wattie’s. So they lived here until January, and he got a job in Dunedin and they moved. I’ve got two grandchildren, eight and ten, and they have moved to Dunedin for the job, and educational experience. Dunedin of course is a wonderful opportunity for them to grow. They’ve bought a house on Maori Hill which is about three hundred feet, and a far better climate than in the city.

So now I’m able to afford to develop this house, which was the fifth house he’d developed over the last ten years. And he sold a place in Lane Road which was quite unique … I can’t think of the name of the architect, but anyway, they wanted a swimming pool at the development. He should’ve been an architect ‘cause he enjoys and was quite prepared to build in his spare time. It’s incredible actually, and they sold this place for $900-odd thousand.

But anyway, so that’s sorted the family out.

Well now, if we could go back to when you started work – where you started, and why you adopted the wool industry?

Yeah, right. In 1951 I left school. My father had done two exhibitions in Williams & Kettle’s No 4 Store – they built houses. And the 1951 wool boom seemed an obvious good opportunity to build a career, and so I left school. Spent two months until January to work at Whakatu at £20 a week at eighteen. And I went and worked for Kettle’s [Williams & Kettle] in their wool department … in their bin room … for £7 a week. But we worked long hours, ten hours a day, four or five hours Saturday morning, started at seven and finished at quarter to six, and worked often, Sundays. And eventually after six or eight months I was taught how to class wool … eventually went through Massey and qualified as an experienced classer. While I was a Massey I did accounting, and didn’t succeed in getting my exams as time was never available.

But six months after leaving Massey I got a ring one night – it was from the Registrar of Massey University who offered me a scholarship to go to London and work, sponsored by London Woolbrokers. I was very hesitant about it, and he said “how much money have you got in the bank?” And I said “£500.” And he said “well, I suggest you go tomorrow”. [Chuckle] And it was the best decision that ever could be made.

So who were London Woolbrokers?

London Woolbrokers were six broking companies that amalgamated, and they were originally The Committee of London Woolbrokers. In 1963 they became a joint limited company with associated business in New Zealand. Well I worked for them – Basinghall Street was their base and the auction centre, and it was quite old and antiquated – very close to the Bank of England.

We went and spent quite a lot of time there – the sole reason for getting me to go to London on a bursary was to re-class, or re-handle, their New Zealand wool, which was quite a challenge. The wool was shipped from here; there’s eight thousand ton vessels just double-dumped with a thirty ton dump, and by the time it’d been unloaded and barged, it took quite some time to get into the sales. But all lines of wool were sampled, and the wools were assessed on the sample, and full shorn.

The bales didn’t look attractive by the time they’d been compressed and tried to stack into lines, so it wasn’t long before the Garnham Brothers, who owned two butchers’ shops at Smithfield and an abattoir in Cambridge and had storage or warehousing, and were very keen to buy into London Woolbrokers. They did all our warehousing and eventually, in ‘63, the move was made when they sold their warehousing to move London Woolbrokers to Bradford and develop sample selling. We built a big new store with the proceeds of the Garnham interest, and in turn were able to develop sample selling, which was a great job.

But going back to London Woolbrokers and my life history, in 1955 this was a great opportunity to experience wools from the world and meet the wool trade. London Woolbrokers were exceptionally good to us – they organised every opportunity to meet people. I had some very good introductions – the IWS in those days had just started – and the banks and so forth who in turn reciprocated with dinners out, and even a meal at the Savoy at the New Zealand Society’s expense, which was quite a novelty for me, who’d never been anywhere as such. To get a taxi to the Savoy from off the tube train, to be able to converse with the London Woolbrokers’ staff that said “well, you’re representing New Zealand”. We were just London member, which was great, and the bank guys were exceptionally good. But while I was in London, every weekend we’d spend and made a point of seeing two new historic places, and that was a wonderful experience.

And then I moved on to Bradford in the summer as it was a very cold, dismal place, and worked for Donald Ackerley who was a top maker, who was a delightful guy … short, dumpy … but loved New Zealanders and he treated you as an equal. And if you performed well, was most helpful. I worked on a sorting board doing South American, Australian, South African and a lot of English wool – a great experience. We went round two other sorting places, but the main object of this company was to sort wool and make tops.

And in those days the industry was segregated into four different processes. The top maker would be contracting a top which was partly formed to [a] ten-pound roll of parallel-fibred wool, and it was a negotiable commodity. And the biggest problem was to be able to get the wool sufficiently into a similar type, length and quality to be able to be processed. It was a very interesting exercise – I learnt a lot. And Donald Ackerley made a point of coming after the morning wool exchange that started at ten, and he’d sell contracts forward. And as the contracts differed he would instruct the sorters to put all available wool into different micron, or you know, Bradford types, so we used to have great fun.

But eventually he took a keen interest in me, and made a point of … provided I covered my wage which was £10 a week … he was prepared to take me in the afternoons round the different businesses in the manufacturing scene. By five or six o’clock he’d had a few beers, and I had to drive him home, [chuckle] so it became a good mutual arrangement. And he used to often say to me, “well, you’re managing”.

And I was living up on the high circle, a two-minute bus ride out of the main hub of Bradford. And Grimleys was a family who billeted three students, and I was included for thirty shillings a week accommodation, which was quite incredible. They were very strict; he was a scoutmaster, and we had not to misbehave. So I survived there for eight months, and was often picked up by several of my friends for an evening out. They drank eight pints of beer to my two – I found two was enough; three was too many.

So you really had a unique experience in the wool industry, didn’t you?

Yes. A wonderful opportunity.

International, really.

Yeah … yeah. And the IWS which was at Ilkley, gave us the promotion side. They were subsidised or sponsored by the Australian, New Zealand and South African Wool Boards, and they had a number of scientists who developed a lot of very good developments of wool. The British Wool Marketing Board had their bidding system which was paid out on, so they had a common system which worked very well because they had forty-two breeds and many problems of assessing the value which was based on the sales results. But they paid out on a schedule and sold the wool and adjusted the price. When it was eventually sold.

But I came back to New Zealand via the ‘Southern Cross’ round South Africa.

So what age would you’ve been then, Richard?

I had my twenty-first birthday in London. Well I came back to Kettle’s who’d sponsored me through Massey in the second year, so I worked a season for them. When I left London the management were very persistent [insistent] that I should work for them, and said that if I liked to be around they’d offer me a job within the season, which they did by May. And I had great pleasure moving from Kettle’s wool department, which unfortunately had far too many people that had morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea at the pub, which was a very bad environment for a young fellow. I never went, but got involved with … one of the classers was a [an] ex-farm manager and was only too pleased to have somebody in the company that wasn’t full of alcohol.

So anyway, May 1958 I moved to London Woolbrokers. A great challenge – at twenty-three, I’d never had a lot to do with the farming community in as far as while I was at Kettle’s I worked on a farm … did a lambing beat … but other than that it was a real challenge. And John Coupe, who was an ex-Gisborne farmer, came back from the war … came back to Nick’s Head … and they employed him as Manager of London Woolbrokers. It was a real challenge – the banks were keen to get sterling so they became our agents, and we gave them a half-per-cent commission.

They shipped the wool initially. I had eighteen thousand bale clientele, and called on farmers with a tally book and a Schedule of Sales as a PR exercise. And by 1963 we had a New Zealand company who in turn organised and shipped the wool. My job was to promote, prepare and ship the wool, and when it eventually got to London we sold it. The communications were by telephone and teleprinter and we had a coded system, but the catalogue was cut into growers’ brands and detailed prices and attached to a letter written direct to the grower – some three hundred letters per sale, which was a considerable job done by the six brokers. They shared the [?] clients.

Between the wars the wool was joint venture purchased and there was no auction selling. And by 1948 the accumulation of a world stockpile of ten million bales. New Zealand had 1.6 [million] I think it was, stock stored throughout New Zealand and overseas. The period between ‘45 and ‘48 through to ‘50, the biggest job was to sell the surplus which the world absorbed in a matter of five years, and so the wool trade absolutely boomed and the demand on wool not only for making blankets and suits and the finer edge, but the carpet industry was incredible. So I was in the right industry at the right time.

In 1951 the Korean War, ‘50 to ’53, was a great boon for the wool industry as [the] Army and the Air Force ordered wool clip “buy at best’, and we saw wool sold here for £1 a pound and the boom carried on. But unfortunately most of the wool, with fortnightly or monthly sales, was unable to be sold so London Woolbrokers were able to ship and sell all their January, February, March at the high price, which re-established London Woolbrokers as far as the grower was concerned. There was [were] many growers who missed the November to January sales, and we were able to get wool away before the waterfront strike in the January … late January, which enabled it to be sold. So we were the king makers.

Richard, did you deal mainly in scoured wool?

No, we took the whole clip. And we scoured the odd [?] and lambs’ wool and the dirty end of the fleece, but the bulk of the fleece was shipped greasy for many years.

But the major problem with London Woolbrokers was London was congested, And the obvious move was to move our wool and sell it in Bradford, which we started in 1963, very successfully. The trade thought it was marvellous to have absorbed twenty per cent of the New Zealand clip, of which we had up to a hundred thousand bale peak period of selling over the next few years.

We were very busy developing sample selling, which proved to be an absolute gem as we were able to draw and develop the wool testing, eventually being accepted by the industry, starting on slipe and scoured wool. And the trade were only too keen to get away from the full show. The sampling was guaranteed by the London Woolbrokers. We had very few claims.

But when we got on to greasy wool it was a slower process. We had to check every bale which was a long, laborious process ‘cause the mistakes that were made in the wool shed always turned up, and were played upon by the auction.

As London Woolbrokers progressed I became manager of the Hawke’s Bay job, and it was quite an exercise. I worked twenty-four/seven … oh, no that’s not quite correct, I did get a few hours sleep … but we worked extremely hard to combat the opposition which in the early days was seven local brokers. And every bale that they didn’t get in the auction they prevented being exported.

The local auction had about seventy hangers-on on the bench. Originally it was very successful because the bigger firms sent their own agents and they bought for the individual companies. But as things progressed forward selling became the in thing, which was perfectly good while wool was booming, but as soon as the market demand eased off they had to sell at a discount which was depressing, and poor marketing for our New Zealand clip. They paid the toll many times.

The Wool Board was developed, and the Wool Commission did a good job in 1952 to pick up the remnants of the boom times. With the resistance of wool the price dropped considerably, and never really recovered until ‘56. The stockpile was a deterrent to push the market, which was eventually stockpiled – after two or three drops in the market – to a stockpile of seven hundred thousand bales which was stored in every available shed throughout New Zealand, at [to] the detriment of growers. The trade used everything else, and the English wool clip absolutely boomed, as they didn’t want to buy wool from New Zealand. The Australians started the same trick.

The New Zealand Wool Marketing was developed, and they thought they were going to make a fortune but unfortunately the trade just used the wool as they needed it. We were able to combat the situation to a marked extent by developing our sample selling and running a spot market in Bradford, and the Continental guys – we could give them a forty-eight hour delivery for the auction.

The development of unitisation meant that our bales were not only dumped in twos but strapped together in twelves. But the chaotic wharf situation in New Zealand had to be looked into, and the shipping companies decided, after having to spend fifty days on the coast to load a ship, between the fragmentation of the brokers locally of delivery with an eighteen day prompt, failed to … it became chaotic. And London was chaotic, and that’s why we had to move.

But we developed containerisation. London Woolbrokers sold a shareholding to Ocean Transport & Trading who were the principals of P & O Shipping Line, to get supply of containers, and we were the pioneers to develop the container business in the wool industry. It was a wonderful success, but the major problem was that we had to build up the container and pack twenty ton to be efficient. So that in turn developed high density dumping. It started with scoured wool where they could put and pack a far bigger bale. Initially they’d get four hundred kilos into a pack which in turn gave the twenty ton payload.

The greasy wool was a different story. With the introduction of power hydraulic pressing they were able to build the weight up to two hundred ks [kilos] of greasy wool average, which was always required. And they were densely dumped by three to bring the space down on an 8x8x20 foot container with a maximum loading of twenty ton, because our trucking was … and the axle rating required considerable axles to handle it.

We went to a lot of trouble in the early stages of building a container shipping system which gave us a London/Liverpool delivery, and ‘stead of spending fifty days loading a ship of eight thousand ton, they could come in here and do Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton, Dunedin in a week, and return with a [an] eighteen day delivery to UK, which made the shipping freight very compatible. It developed and helped the wool industry considerably.

We had a system where we picked wool either delivered to London in containers and they railed them to Staughton, which was a warehouse developed for container business ten miles south of Bradford. A massive system – London Woolbrokers had a forwarding company, Pennine Forwarding, with twelve Mercedes ten-ton trucks with Scannell trailer development. Pennine Forwarding had two hundred trailers, so [it] enabled us to pick up containers off railway flat tops, and deliver them to the mill. It was vital in our business to be able to get the wool delivered, because all our wool was sold on a CIF [cost, insurance, freight] basis. Samples sold eventually and the sooner we got the wool delivered to the mill the sooner we got paid, which was quite …

So it became a very efficient business, and we had a continental company, Continental Delivery – they barged the wool to the continent and gave a forty-eight hour delivery on a two ton basis to all the mills, and we’d get down to Italy within two days by road transport. It was quite incredible. But that solved the problem, and we became just one step ahead each time with the local brokers, which they weren’t very happy about.

But by 1986 the world demand for wool had changed. The amount of wool consumed in Bradford and the continent reduced to quite a small percentage when they were able to deliver wool to China, which suddenly became quite a high proportion. And London Woolbrokers decided in ‘86 before the financial downturn, to pull out, which was quite a sad, disappointing time for me. But on the other hand they gave me thirty years’ redundancy which …

They actually pulled out totally?

Yeah. They pulled out, and one of the main reasons was that the demand for wool in Bradford and the continent had moved to Asia and to China, and they considered that their UK contract to sell the British clip was to continue. It was a good business without any problems.

What date was that?

‘86. They were the spot market boys that kept the trade honest. See, the forward sellers would manipulate the market, and we were able to get spot demand. And the carpet business boomed, but the Bradford business gradually moved over to synthetics which were started in the thirties with rayon, and the mills found it very difficult to compete with wool alone. But suiting, household wool, even woollen blankets, were in great demand, but as for floor coverings in the financial situation, the market for carpet eased. But the local mills used a lot of wool in the early stages. Wanganui Wools was a maker of woollen blankets which you don’t see today – they’re unavailable, and taken over by synthetics really.

So you virtually retired then?

No. I was fifty-four, and I had a very good business or clientele, which was rather unique because it was all of Hawke’s Bay, and I knew most of the farmers, and worked on an eighty/twenty basis … getting eighty per cent of the business from twenty per cent of the clients, and I had a hundred and fifty very good clients. And I had a valuable asset to sell to the incoming company, being Elders’ Pastoral Australia – put a hundred million dollars into New Zealand as the green region of Australia. Unfortunately they didn’t succeed in taking the wool industry over here in New Zealand. They took over Dalgety’s and most of the staff disappeared … of any value … and left the old group which were eventually weeded out.

But they did very well with the wool, particularly in Hawke’s Bay, as they were able to buy four of the people who had the contacts with the farmers. Finance was no problem, but they made quite a few mistakes. Equally, our wool and my twenty thousand bales which was the bulk of the London Woolbrokers’ business, was offered to Elders, and a job for me. And I just worked for them as a consultant, which was great – well paid – and they organised the wool store operation. And my headaches went overnight … the shipping, and we were able to channel my clients into their business. Brian Holmes had a private business which they bought, and Alistair Godwin was the Assistant Manager of Wrightson’s, and Lachie Grant was the wool man left out of Hawke’s Bay Farmers’, and we knew the good guys that weren’t committed to the stock firms. They were able to produce a very good catalogue.

So I concentrated on promoting, preparing and breeding good wool, and had a hundred and fifty clients that I was proud to sell the wool of.

What a fascinating story!

And it was all through the experience of working with the wool, with people who owned it and bred it. The essential thing was to be able to grow the right wool for the market, and not many people had the knowledge or ability to do so. So no, it was a wonderful experience.

And I retired at sixty-five out of Elder’s, to their regret, and they did everything possible to make me stay on. Money was secondary – I had a wife who was dying of cancer, so I stayed and looked after her.

Timing … you were in the system when it was climbing.

And wool was seventeen per cent of the farmer’s income, which was quite a unique situation, because wool people were treated with great respect.

And you came through the period of time when the transport of wool per containers … that must have been the most wonderful innovation and change for the industry … boats were not tied up for months.

Well fifty days was the average of an eight-thousand-tonner, and they brought in a forty-thousand-ton container ship that loaded within a week, and were upset if the ship was held up. The assembly of containers was a great achievement – P & O were the principal container operators initially, and had the bulk of the shipping business. And to get an eighteen day delivery was incredible. The container worked perfectly as a warehouse for London Woolbrokers, and we used and shipped wool with strategy to be able to auction it on the water, which was a great success.

It changed everything.

Yeah. Our biggest problem was if the straps broke, and the wool crashing standard made it just about impossible to get the wool out. So the barraging was always a massive job at the other end – for the mills. We didn’t get a bob for that.

But Peter Lees was on the Freight Council; he was on the British Wool Marketing Board, and he was a unique guy who … We had another guy who was a British wool buyer as Managing Director, and between the two of them they did what we asked. And the Garnhams were wonderful. They were able and financial enough to make the thing work. Frank Garnham came out several times – a real Englishman – and respected what was done, and looked after the employees very well and had great appreciation of our operation.

Unfortunately the Wool board was farmer-orientated and never really achieved what they intended. The had a lot of good schemes that … most successful, that was taken out of their hands by the IWS, which unfortunately was dominated by the Australian Wool Board who contributed far bigger proportions of money. And when we eventually put a lot of money in our third share in the early nineties, the marketing was never … or the demands tapered off, dominated by the synthetics that they were able to produce by the ton and at a price, and the manufacturers eventually changed their machinery over to synthetics, which in turn never went back to wool.

But the Yorkshire trade appreciated the wool boom and bust situation, and the Yorkshiremen, and many of them, sat round the pub drinking non-ales and reminiscing of the old times. But they exploited the labour force in no mean feat. I was getting £10 a week and the people doing the machinery were getting £3/10 shillings. £10 was not a lot in those days – we could go out once a week and have a few beers, but that was it, and we just literally worked. A great experience.

And of course now we’re back in a wool slump again, aren’t we?

Yes, well the major problem – and it’s happened to all our industries in New Zealand – the Wool Board developed Wool Services to be a trading company, and they were very unsuccessful. And fifty per cent has been sold to the Chinese who in turn have now manipulated the wool industry. They’ve had very high prices in ‘10 and ‘11 and the market surged up to 600 clean, and now they don’t want to know. They’ve got stock everywhere, and it’s down to $2 clean, or $2.50 in the cross-bred wools, and they’re just … they’ll have a killing in the next few years with plenty of stock.

And I see every time you look at a computer, someone’s advertising artificial fibre carpet – in a country that’s got this huge bounty of wool.

Yeah. The interesting thing is that the Chinese have now taken fifty per cent of the wool, and farmers have now withheld … I don’t know whether it’s ten per cent – I don’t know the exact figure, but obviously they’re resisting the price at the present moment. But Cavalier Carpets who was one of the main manufacturers when they introduced a tufted carpet now use fifteen per cent wool, and the rest of the carpet they’re making is from synthetic [?things?], and I think it’s an absolute tragedy that we haven’t been able to subsidise or maintain our industry with lack of Government support.

Now are you used at all … your expertise … still as an adviser?

Well in 2006 I lost my wife, and … well in 2002 I moved out of Elder’s, and retired and took the super, but looked after her for two years. And she died of cancer, but she was a great backup – she was a Private Secretary with London Woolbrokers and could type a hundred and twenty words a minute out of shorthand without a mistake, and she was invaluable. When she decided to stop working, which I insisted when we had a family, the farmers were given great service if I wasn’t there when the phone rang.

But there’s a lot of things that have happened over the period that you’re asking me … I shore some sheep with a farmer friend of mine that did the wool the other day, but basically it was twenty years since I’d been on the shed floor with a broom. But it was great fun, and a laugh a minute. Oh well, I’d done very little shed work, but supervised some twenty thousand bales a year, which was quite a job and there was a massive business which declined over the years which is understandable, but we retained a good core business by being able to do a good prompt job.

Every so often you see small entrepreneurial groups like the merino groups that’ve …

Well, I was just going to say … the interesting thing was that in their earlier days, London Woolbrokers handled most of the merino from the big growers in the South Island. Wrightson’s were in quite a big way and sold a lot through Dunedin, but in the heyday quite a lot of it was [?scoured?] and shipped and used extensively. The Bradford trade liked to see their own purchase and bought it on a spot basis. And we even financed a lot of wool to the trade, and gave them three or four bales a week. They were in the smallest [?]. But the big guys wanted it, but that’s one thing that if the cross-bred boys had done what the … the merino guys took the promotion out of the hands of the Wool Board and paid a bigger levy. And twelve of them managed to market the best wool in the world of length and strength and colour, and now have been able to retain their $12 a kilogram premium … oh, premium, but actual … and now they’re breeding, and specialised in the finer edge, and using China to process. So there’s there’s two big companies that have capitalised on their listing. Marketing – yeah, and this is where we fell down.

‘Course over the years, we tend to have always grown things and then look for someone to buy them, rather than market it, then grow what they want.

Yeah, this is where the Wool Board fell down. They unfortunately, by not promoting it properly in the early stages, meant the synthetic boys win. They had unlimited money, you know, in the chemical world. And no doubt, we’ve got to concede that five generations later, they have got the market. But there’s still nothing better than wool, and the merino boys have proved it. And they’ve outlicked the Australians, and got a niche market – this is Australian merino wool which is beautiful quality made to specifications. Is it John Jones, [David Jones] the big retailer? Had a stack of about fifty pullovers for sale, and so I couldn’t resist.

You didn’t buy the fifty of them?

No, I … various sizes … but I bought all the sizes that fitted me, and several colours and so I’ve never looked back.

So Richard, now that you’ve retired, you’re on your own – do you have any other interests?

When I first started with London Woolbrokers there was [were] twenty-three billiard tables down the coast. And the first thing I was encouraged to do by John Coupe, who was quite a character, and a good marketing guy … said “you’re to join the Hastings Club and learn to play snooker”, which I’ve capitalised on over the period. And now between the County Club diminishing from six hundred members to a car park, five years ago we moved … seventeen of us moved to Havelock – most of us living in Havelock – now run a Wednesday competition – run a thirty player competition, handicapped. Three wins and you lose a point; three losses and you gain a point – levels the good and the bad. And it is great fun.

And it’s close to home?

Yeah – it’s walking distance. And when I retired I joined Probus, and took on croquet in a big way – I’m going to play croquet after lunch – which I do for fun.

Yes, and it’s mixing with people.

And it’s mixing with people in a big way.

But my son-in-law developed five properties while he had this Wattie’s job. How he did it I don’t know, but he just loved architecture and bought a house, and I was the supervisor when the concrete mixer arrived. And I worked for him for no money, just for achievement. And then I’ve always had a wood turning lathe and a bandsaw, and enjoyed gluing chairs or my achievements. And my wife being a private secretary keeping the farmers at bay until the glue clamp was tightened.

We moved from a very nice spot with a nice swimming pool in 2000, to a very nice apartment with three bedrooms.

North-facing …

Yes. Sun in every bedroom – it’s got three bedrooms, and they’re larger double bedrooms, three bathrooms, three showers and three toilets which is too big, so I’ve moved to the ground floor which is very neat and compact, and I’ll be able to survive a bit longer. Yeah.

Okay, I think that just about …

Does that sum it up? I’ve covered most things. I haven’t tried to cover the Wool Board.

Elders came to New Zealand in ‘85-’86 and were very keen to establish a stock and station agent business. And the first thing they did was to pool investments and buy existing businesses and staff. They bought Dalgety’s in the early stages, and bought Holmes, which I was interested in. Brian Holmes’ business was a private selling organisation, as a private seller or private buyer. And they very quickly got his staff as [?] previously, and we had a very good business.

It wasn’t long before Elders found, particularly in the South Island, that the stock firms financed the farmers, and they were unable to obtain the better clients which were held mostly by the three stock firms, which was a disappointment to them. And with the downturn in … ‘86 financial downturn they decided to pull out, and gave the business to their Elders’ management. Eric Spencer was the guy that benefited most – he was left the business; the name for $5, as Elders New Zealand; and employed two farm advisers and recovered most of the $35 million invested in New Zealand farmers in that period.

Eric Spencer was very quick to work with the staff, and to solve the problem with the Dalgety’s staff he offered the stock agents a [an] opportunity to go out on their own and gave them eighty per cent of the commission and took twenty per cent of the stock commission, which didn’t sound very much but they were only earning ten per cent by employing them, so it was better to let them run their own car, telephone account and grog account. And the ones that had a business and had been working extensively for the company capitalised on the opportunity. And some of them made up to $100,000 as the stock values improved.

The wool side – Brian Holmes and myself had great fun. I took twenty thousand bales to Elders from the London Woolbrokers business … the first year we actually got twenty thousand bales of the business, so it was quite a successful venture. But I worked round the clock and it was very rewarding, but we were in an old wool store at Louis Wood’s old scour on the foreshore at Awatoto, and we soon encouraged our expenser to buy a $4 million ex-Wool Board store in Ahuriri, which proved a great success.

It’d been filled with Wattie’s cans stacked sixteen feet high, and they had … best part of three acres of tins. And my son-in-law – his first job was to work out what they required in the way of tins, and stop the can-making plant for a little while. Which was considerable. Yeah – big business.

Anyway, we got clients, and we needed to get staff to handle it, and we eventually, with Alistair Godwin, through experience they processed them all and I didn’t get involved. I said I had a big enough job to promote it, and could make far more money than $400,000 out of just promoting the business, which was you know – it was big business in those days.

But I eventually left them in 2000, and have had little to do other than was plagued when I retired to carry on, not only by the Elders people but by the growers, and particularly the stud stock guys that I’d bought a lot of rams from. But I love that, ‘cause you could see that by sorting the wool on the hogget’s back and breeding from the best, we made massive progress.

It’s almost as if we lost our way, because back in the fifties … sixties, I always remember Mason Waterworth …

Department of Agriculture, wasn’t he?

He was too … promoting all this breeding for good wool. And wool has just become a secondary … it’s almost become a nuisance product, hasn’t it?

Well with the downfall and the stockpile which accentuated it, and the likelihood of the synthetics taking the business over, the farmers concentrated on meat and used exotic breeds, and it stuffed the wool. In other words we lost our [?crimp?]. A lot of the traditional guys stayed with the good cross breeds, but the guys suddenly realised that if they increased the lamb weight and reduced the ewe numbers – so the ewe numbers went from thirty to seventy thousand, and we came back to thirty thousand, or twenty-eight thousand breeding ewes now, and the actual tonnage of meat is retained with far less ewes. And the dairy industry took about a third of the farmers’ sheep and cattle country as a run-off here, and a lot of good stuff with the boom of the dairying, and they’ve gone through the same problem.

Unfortunately, the Chinese will achieve their object. They’ve now bought into fifty per cent of PPCS, which is now South Island … Silver Fern Farms, which gives them the major control of the killing. And they’ve got eight freezing works – PPS [PPCS] bought Richmond’s and eight freezing works here – well, not eight freezing works – they bought Richmonds’ interest and Graeme Lowe’s interest at $200 million. And Brierley’s success with holding shares for eight months and making $20 million, which didn’t go down very well with the Hawke’s Bay farmers, which is a tragedy.

But unfortunately, now the wool is controlled by six broking firms … or exporters … and New Zealand Wools that are half owned by the Chinese company dominating the market and buying fifty per cent of the wool. And so it’s a sorry sight that’s been poorly managed.

Yes. Well I think that’s probably a good note to end on, isn’t it?

Yeah. [Chuckle]

Thank you Richard, for sharing your life and the successes and … mainly successes … of your time with the London Woolbrokers. So thank you.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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