Tremain, Christopher James (Chris) Interview

Today is 19th November 2018, and I’ll be talking to Chris Tremain, and he’s going to tell us about his family. Chris?

I think where we’d discussed, Frank, is that we’d talk with my brothers up until the point of my father’s untimely death But you wanted me to mention about the transition from Willow Drive in Taradale where we grew up, through to Puketapu Road; and then perhaps I can make a few comments about Mum’s moves from there.

But yeah, we grew up at 5 Willow Drive in Taradale, which Mum mentioned she and Kel purchased as a vacant section just after they were married; so when she was working for the newspaper in Napier and Dad was working for either State Advances or Williams & Kettle – probably Williams & Kettle by that stage. And at that point Willow Drive was in fact covered in willows. It wasn’t until some time later that the willow trees were removed and the park was formed there. We only knew it as a park, but clearly Willow Drive was synonymous with what it had previously been. So yes we grew up there. It was a wonderful suburban upbringing with all the access to the Scouts, and … I think we’ve talked about that previously; ‘bout the paper runs and all those things … the Athletics Club and all the things we were involved in.

But Dad had always wanted a farm. He’d obviously been raised in a family who weren’t particularly affluent, and you know, didn’t have any family money to buy a farm, so he had to achieve that of his own accord. So when we first were in Willow Drive he had a lease block in Poraiti, called Gorse Farm funnily enough. We used to go up there and spend a lot of time up there, chasing sheep around the hills and shearing them; so that was his first foray. He then subsequently purchased a block of about a hundred and fifty acres in Seafield Road, where he farmed for … I’d be making this up, but for five or six years. In fact one time my friends and I biked out there and stayed on the farm beside the river, which was quite an adventure.

But then he sold that property, and found some land at the back of Taradale which was above the Taradale Cemetery in Puketapu Road, which extended right across through the back of Taradale up to the ridge line above the Otatara Pa site, and next to Rob Darroch’s property now. So he purchased that towards the end of my Sixth Form year, so I would have been seventeen, and I believe that was in 1983; and we moved up there.

So I had my Seventh Form year based at Puketapu Road. And I remember that distinctly because in my Seventh Form year we had a pretty successful First XV, in fact that year Dennis Paxie was the Captain and I was the Vice Captain. But Simon was also in the team that year, and he was obviously starting to have a very successful rugby career, and as a young Year 11 or Fifth Former, to be in the First XV was … you know, pretty remarkable. But we that year won the [?] Cup and the Polson Banner, and so on one of the occasions we had a party up at our place, and I remember Dad and his mates gathering; you know, Dad always loved to have a party and so did Mum for that matter; but I recall us having a haka on the front lawn, and the people from down in Taradale heard the haka. Yes, it was quite hilarious.

Yeah, so that’s where we went to, and obviously Dad had the … it was the old Goode homestead. So Trevor Goode had been a potato farmer, and had a big shed below the main house there where he’d used to store his potatoes. That was converted into a storage facility for the Rotary Club for the Taradale Rotary auction, so I know for many years Taradale Rotary enjoyed the goodwill of having a free storage shed. So look, Mum and Dad were there from ’83 through until Dad’s passing; and then Mum, subsequently to that, stayed there for some time.

Yeah, so I went from there on to university; so that was in ’85. So I spent the four years at Massey University – ’85, ’86, ’87 and ’88 – before I obviously came back; and used to come and stay at home. I think in the first summer holidays I worked at Denton Donovan over in Hastings as a trainee accountant; and also worked as a barman in Napier at Cheers, was the name of the bar at the time. And then the following summer, Peter Ebbett who was a very good friend of mine who’s now passed away himself – he and I travelled to Australia and worked. I worked on the Tangalooma Resort at Morton Island teaching windsurfing and sailing, and Pete worked down in Surfers Paradise. And in the following summer of university I worked in the wool stores for the summer, together with Simon … it was Si’s first year at university.

And then the following summer, having finished university, Andrew Bailey and I travelled to Canada. And we got a green card and we worked up at Lake Louise on the ski field there for about seven or eight weeks, before coming down from Calgary through northern America into Salt Lake City, and back via San Francisco and Hawaii on the way home before starting work at … I had a job at Gosling Chapman in Auckland as a trainee chartered account. That would’ve been ’89 … the year ’89. And then ’90, moved from Gosling Chapman and worked for a company called Richard Cavalier who were a start up dental supply company. And I became their CFO [Chief Financial Officer] for the year, which was … she’s an education, I tell you, because they were struggling to pay their bills, and struggling to collect their dues; and I was on the sharp end of the discussion with both debtors and creditors; it was an entertaining part of my life.

But then subsequent to that … while I’d been at university there was a group of friends and … and Ange … and I, who’d agreed after two years of work, to meet up in Los Angeles and to buy a couple of American cars; which we did in about April of … must’ve been 1991. And we bought a Lincoln Continental and a Buick station wagon; spent ten or twelve weeks driving across the United States through to … finally to New York, and then on to London. So yeah, it was an interesting time.

We used to get a progress report from Kel about where you were; he didn’t know what you were up to but [background noise] he was sure you were having fun.

Yeah. Yeah, well Kel was a prolific letter writer actually, my father, and I think he inherited that from his mother and he used to write to me pretty regularly, and I think I mentioned previously, while I was at university and certainly while I was in the UK [United Kingdom]. Yeah, so Ange and I had … it was around about nine months in the UK in the end, which was obviously cut short by Dad becoming sick. But I invested into a Veedub Kombi [Volkswagen Kombi] and was about to set off around Europe in that when we found out that Dad wasn’t well; and so came home. And then obviously my life changed overnight, dramatically; dramatically, and ended up coming into the real estate business a lot earlier than I’d planned, even though I had had discussions with Dad about doing that. But I think it would’ve been a much different entry; I would’ve started in the sales team rather than in the management, and it would’ve been a different, you know, start to my career. But you know, that was how it was; and so there was no other alternatives. And fortunately Jim Simkin had the licence at the time; Mum obviously would’ve talked previously – she studied her little heart out to get her licence as well. But then you know, between us we were able to forge ahead and build the business. You know, so fascinating times, and I really enjoyed it.

There was a stage where there was a danger of the Tremain name being buried by the Professional[s] name.

Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, there was a [an] ongoing debate between the two of us about what we’d benefit from the relationship with The Professionals, ‘cause you know, there were significant benefits from the national recognition, and I guess the comradeship, and then shared ideas that came with being in the wider group; but ultimately we found that … yeah, there was more value in the Tremain name. And I think it came to a head when … actually when Scott and I went to Hong Kong in pursuit of the Sotheby’s franchise. And we came back having secured the opportunity, but then in subsequent negotiations, in order to take up the Sotheby’s brand we were required to drop the Tremain brand altogether. And we decided, clearly that wasn’t ever going to be a goer, so we actually walked away from that first opportunity to bring on the Sotheby’s brand. And so I believe that then came to New Zealand through another channel, and it wasn’t until that had been established in Queenstown that Simon then re-investigated that opportunity and took it up. But by that time we’d moved away from The Professionals, and Tremains had been strongly established as that middle market residential brand. We pulled in the Colliers International before I’d gone into politics, and had that bubbling away; and so it became a relatively easy tack-on to bring in Sotheby’s as our high end residential brand.

Now before we get too involved, at what stage did you meet Angie, and where did you meet her?

So I met Angela at university; so I think it was in our … was it in our second year, Ange?

Angela: Yes.

Chris: Yes. So I was flatting with three friends … two from Napier Girls’ High School, two Teachers’ College friends … Andrea Baker and Linda Farquhar, and their friend from New Plymouth, Anna Murphy. And we were having a dinner party one night that the girls organised in our flat; so that would have been in 1986, yeah, so in the second year university. So yeah, it’s a long time ago now. [Chuckle]

But you know, when you look back at your children and the success of everything around you …

Oh – no, it’s been a great … wonderful relationship. I’ve been very lucky; very fortunate, and very strong family values. And it’s been …

So it was during your move into real estate that you got married?

Yes, so that was … I came back – what was it? ’89 was at Gosling Chapman; ’90 was at Richard Cavalier; ’91 was in England; came back in ’92; but then it was ’93, Ange, that we got married, wasn’t it?

Angela: Yeah, it was, yeah.

Chris: 4th December 1993 we got married – down in Feilding at the Anglican church there. And then our honeymoon was … because we hadn’t had that European trip we went back to Europe, and we actually flew into Amsterdam. And because we’d shared some time in Amsterdam and loved it as a city, so we flew in there and had three or four days in Amsterdam, but then flew to Istanbul. And we back-packed from Istanbul round the coast of Turkey, so down to the Dardanelles and İzmir and Marmaris and then across to Israel; which was, you know, quite eye-opening.

So we came back; and fortunately Dad had encouraged me to send some money back from the UK, so while we were away I purchased a house on Napier Hill – 10 Gladstone Road. And it was a lovely old Art Deco home … was a beautiful home, so we moved in there pretty much immediately we came back from our honeymoon and occupied that house – Ange, when did we move out to the Esk Valley?

Angela: November 1998.

Chris: So November 1998 we sold Gladstone Road and moved out to the Esk Valley. By that stage Sam would’ve been two years old …

Angela: Will was three months.

Chris: … and Will was three months, yeah. So Ange had … or both of us for that matter … had always wanted the kids to go to a country school, so that was part of it. So we went out there with big ideas about a vineyard, and wished we had this lovely vineyard on the place. It was a pretty special place which we developed over a period of years; we planted the vineyard, and redeveloped the family home up there. So we loved our time at Eskdale, and the kids obviously all went through and started school; and then Sam and Will [went to] Hereworth, and Lily through Tamatea Intermediate and then Iona, and the boys through Napier Boys’ [High].

Now we’ve skipped a bit of your life and that was your sporting times …

Yes, so I loved sport, and enjoyed my rugby. I mean I was never an [chuckle] All Black contender by any stretch of the imagination, but I wasn’t a bad … you know, played First XV rugby for two years in ’83 and ’84; played Ross Shield for two years and made the Hawke’s Bay Ross Shield side; and I also played in Hawke’s Bay Under 18s while I was at Napier Boys’, so, yeah, loved my rugby. And I loved my surf lifesaving as well, in the summer. Well, I wasn’t a particularly good cricketer; but started with Ocean Beach Kiwi, and then ended up at Pacific Surf Lifesaving Club where I competed with Jeff Drury and his brother, Rod, who went on to some fame; and also David Gray. And we were competing in the surf boat … or surf canoe, I should say … and we won silver and bronze medals at the New Zealand Surf Nationals; so yeah, we were competitive in that sport.

Through university I played rugby – for the Es when I first got to university, for two years, and then the Cs, and then played for the Rams in my last year at university, which was senior rugby. But I never went on from there to play provincial rugby again after high school, but played senior rugby up in Auckland, and then came back here and finished playing Senior Twos for Old Boys’ Marist. But at that stage I started to get into … sort of that club administration … so I think I was Chairman of the kids’ rugby club at Eskdale, and you know, I was the Chairman at Old Boys’ Marist Rugby Club; and then I went on to, I think from sort of 1990 to ‘95 I was the Chairman of Sport Hawke’s Bay.

One of the dangers of being an accountant …

Yeah, yeah, well yeah – I wasn’t just an accountant though; I mean, that was one of … you do get involved in these things, but obviously you know, you step up to leadership, which was a little more than just accounting.

Yeah – and that kind of started to get me involved and interested in the wider comings and goings of the community. And obviously by that stage I was leading the business; and you know, Simon had come and gone, you know, on his sporting … went over to South Africa and then come back, and then got heavily involved with the sales team, which you know, was great that he did that. And then he was … you know, you could see he wanted to take on bigger leadership roles. And so you know, at some point it was important that he find that space – and he did. And was always going to, you know … rise to those roles.

So the timing for me was good in that respect, going into politics, taking a community leadership role as an MP, [Member of Parliament] and Si stepping up to be, you know, essentially run the real estate business.

And then by that stage it was interesting; we’d actually … because when I first got into the business it wasn’t just Tremain Real Estate. People forget that the travel business was there as well in some capacity, and we talked about that previously. But yeah, so my initial role covered both businesses which was … you know, it took some time to move on from travel and to realise that wasn’t going to be our future; and to you know, eventually sell out of those businesses and move on. You know, but part of the history. So anyway, that covers the sport I think.

Yeah … politics was, you know, [an] incredible privilege to be able to represent Napier, having been a Labour seat since ’54, and so to win it in that first election in ’95 [2005] was pretty special. And we went into Opposition; Don Brash was the leader at that point in time, and so went into Opposition in 2005; 2006, 2007 in Opposition; election in 2008 where John Key had become the leader, and we then had two periods in government; the first period as Senior Whip, and then in the last three year period through to 2014 as a Minister and Cabinet Minister. So yeah …

Well looking back, that’s the closest Hawke’s Bay has come to being united for many, many years. A lot of the parochialism disappeared during that time.

Yeah, I think it was quite a united period. I think Craig [Foss] and I did cement a strong bond between the two cities. And ultimately though you know, I had aspirations; and … I say that others’ve tried to amalgamate the two, but you know, the reality was that – I can understand why, but the people of Napier always saw themselves as an individual city and didn’t want to lose any chance of that changing. And you know, I think they had a point, you know. In hindsight it would’ve had an impact. So anyway, that was one debate we lost, and probably for the better.

You know, lots of debates over that period, and some pretty fundamental debates around where the country was going and what was happening. I mean the Seabed and Foreshore legislation were [was] pivotal during that time; the debate around smacking children and whether that was the right thing or not – that was pretty culturally pivotal at the time; the debate about homosexual law reform and gay marriage – all happened during my time in politics. And you know, in the ongoing left and right debate between, you know, how accountable we should be for our own lives versus the State’s involvement in our lives, and how much the State should be accountable for [?] … you know, it was that kind of pivotal yin and yang between you know, how much … And so I was very much a part of that, and proud to be part of that John Key government who had to deal with, you know, especially the 2008 GFC, [global financial crisis] to get us through that period. We came through that period as [in] one of the best shapes of any of the western economies. And then going through the all the issues with the Christchurch earthquake, and the Pike River disaster … that was a tough old time. But I think we made a pretty good fist of it, and the country came out of that time in pretty good shape.

Yes. And then you decided you would retire?

Yeah, well that was an interesting decision. I mean, we’d actually thought pretty long and hard about it after six years in fact, with that willingness to resign after six years. So that would have been – I’d go in in 2005, so in the 2011 election; but then we decided that actually six years wasn’t long enough in terms of … you know, some people said, “Oh you only stayed in for nine years because it would’ve got you your pension.” Well, the problem was that the pension had long gone, [chuckle] so nothing to do with that. I just thought my job hadn’t been done, I hadn’t made it into Cabinet and there was that opportunity that existed, so we decided to do nine years, but no more. So yeah, it was a wonderful period of my life.

At a time when you have the youth and enthusiasm …

Mmm, mmm.

to deal with it.

Yes, I think so. We did bring a lot of enthusiasm to the role; I mean, the things that Craig and I got up to – and Ange and Crystal for that matter, our wives – in terms of the A&P [Agricultural & Pastoral] Shows and the things that we did there, and the Relay for Life. [I] remember, one of the campaigns I was most proud of was the ‘30 Jobs in 30 Days’ campaign we did, where for thirty days in a row I had a different job every morning. So I worked in the Wairoa Freezing Works, through to the Hawke’s Bay Seafoods’ fish filleting rooms, to the timber factory at Waitane Timber Mill, [chuckle] so it was an incredibly humbling experience which introduced me to you know, so many different constituents.

I often look back to Hawke’s Bay electorate when we invited Michael Laws to come in; that was our first mistake.

Right , right, right – yeah. He was a character, that boy.

Very, very intelligent man. He always had to be outside the tent peering in – couldn’t ever do work as a team. It was sad, because his parents were really gentle, lovely people, and he was a nice guy; but he just could not work as a team.

Yeah.

He was a bit like Neil Kirton, who walked in Michael’s shadow.

I knew both men; didn’t know them – I met and had various coffees with both of them, but to say I knew them – I don’t.

So during this period of politics and real estate you had some children?

Yeah, yeah. So … and a wonderful wife, who … we worked together. I mean Sam was our first child in 1996, July 1st 1996; and Will came in 1998, July 30th; and Lily 18th October 2000. So yeah, three wonderful children. And throughout that period I was pretty busy with the business, so you know, Ange played a massive role in raising the children and schooling; she was on the PTA [Parent Teacher Association] and the School Board through that period; and also had a massive involvement in running the vineyard. So Ange did her viticultural papers at the time, and was very heavily involved in negotiating the contracts and essentially running the farm and the vineyard. So that was her key focus there.

The kids – Sammy started out playing rugby, and then moved to football. He was very heavily involved with the Gifted and Talented Kids programme; so he was identified early on as being a young fellow with a real intellectual talent.

Angela: And karate.

Chris: And then … yeah, and then he subsequently got in the game, and got into karate and got his black belt while he was at Napier Boys’ High School. So Sammy finished off as runner up to dux, so he did really well, and continued to play football right through until his time at … he’s now at university doing a double major in law and business. So he’s in his fourth year now. Sammy was also a prefect at Napier Boys’ High School.

Will is more of an all rounder, you know, and is pretty strong in his rugby and cricket right from the word go; and [a] pretty good student as well. And he from early ages was in the local rep [representative] sides, and then played Ross Shield for a couple of years; and obviously, First XV, he was Vice-Captain and then Captain for a number of the games. And throughout that period he made Hawke’s Bay sides, and then the Junior Hurricanes; then ultimately went through to play for New Zealand in the Junior All Blacks.

Lily was a good all rounder as well, both as a student and as a netballer. She flourished on the sports field, but she went a different route in terms of … from Eskdale she went to Tamatea Intermediate and then to Iona. She was also a prefect this year, which has been fantastic; [she’s] had leadership roles as a Captain in the netball team for two years running, and done really well scholastically as well, so she’s off to University of Otago next year to do a Business degree.

Will’s been down at Victoria doing a Law and Commerce degree as well; supposed to be Commerce and Law, the other way round. But he’s also pursuing a professional rugby career; he’s got a contract with the Magpies at the moment, so he’s able to fit that in in the second semester of each year. The first semester he goes to work, and does four papers, and then comes back and plays rugby. It’s working quite nicely for him.

Long as he doesn’t break a leg …

No. Well he’s broken a shoulder, and this year he got an incredibly random injury which was about an eighteen centimetre cut down the inside of his leg, so that put him out for a few weeks as well.

I think that’s what the papers were …

Yeah, yeah, yeah. They reported incorrectly in that it was assumed that he’d had a compound fracture, but in fact he didn’t. So yeah, the kids are loving life and each of them are going their own ways now. And over the course of that period Ange has got back into teaching; so for about three or four years she got back and quite heavily involved with Hereworth School, and moved into a senior role there. And after some time teaching, decided that she wanted a change in direction, so came back out and has now started her own business. So she has a business called ‘Mojo Journeys’, which is a start up which is basically identifying a number of walks around Hawke’s Bay. Most prevalent is the three day trek from here across to Ocean Beach, across the private land and then back across from Andy Lowe’s place to Havelock North and back. So she’s building that business; has a retreat this weekend down at [?] Station.

So after being an MP you have some other interests for yourself?

So you know, obviously when you make that decision, you know with the big call to go on, I try and continue to strive to go up the ladder. We’d made that decision to leave, but it was also qualified by the point where I was No 18 in the Cabinet … I don’t know, which is … you know, not to be sneezed at. But the reality was, to continue to rise would’ve meant I needed to stay in politics until we were back in Opposition. And then there was every chance that you might become one of the senior MPs, but there were so many ifs, buts and maybes that if you did get into that position, how long would it be until you got back into Government as a senior MP?

So it’d become a decision about the rest of our lives. We didn’t want that, so we decided to get back in the commercial world. And yes, it’s a bit like falling off a horse – you’ve got to start again. So we did. I sold my shares in the real estate business, so that avenue was no longer open. And I think, you know, the business had moved on, there were new partners there; it was right and proper to go on that same way. So I was fortunate to be offered a position with the Bank of China in New Zealand immediately I got out of politics, so that gave me a really good stepping stone into the commercial world. I’ve continued to be the Chairman of that bank for the last four years, and remain in that position now.

Since then I’ve had a range of different roles with different companies and public entities. I chaired the enquiry for the government into the racing industry; I chaired the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company for a year or so, and led the capital review for the Regional Council into what it did with the port in Napier; so we’re just going through that debate now about selling the port down. Involved with Wedderspoon Organic as an international honey importer; and I chaired the group that had to deal with the enquiry after the Havelock North water crisis. So you know, lots of different roles like that. But in the background I set up a company called Tremain Capital, and that business works with high net worth people to bring together capital to invest in commercial property, private equities and agribusiness opportunities, so we’re just quietly going about building that business.

You’ve had very broad contact with the community; it’s probably served you well to deal with a lot of these other things?

I think the breadth of experiences that you have and have to deal with, especially when you’re an MP – it does set you up to be quite experienced across a range of different areas.

Do you play any other sport?

No – we walk most mornings, so I keep my fitness up. The trip we just had to Nepal was … to walk to Everest base camp was high level [?] our goals recently. I do quite a bit … I bike, I enjoy my biking; and I keep fit generally, but I’m not a gym junkie; don’t play any particular … because I do run our orienteering occasionally; but yeah, I don’t have a particular sport I play now.

We talk about Kel with so many different things, and he was always there to put his shoulder to the wheel …

Mmm.

… and that’s been very obvious; you boys have followed that on as well.

Yeah, I think so; I think Tremain Real Estate was definitely a vehicle for doing that. But I mean in our private capacities, you know, like … we’ve talked about the various chairmanship roles I’ve had with Sport Hawke’s Bay and various clubs. I mean, one of the things I’m most proud about since leaving politics is just getting the Waipatiki camp ground, which was looking like it would be sold privately. I campaigned to the three councils and managed to co-ordinate them to purchase the camp ground, so you know, that’s a legacy that will be … well, the camp ground will now stay in public hands.

Now it’s so easy to get to with the new road, and the camping people that run the camp … very, very sociable people.

Well it’s that close that I went out this morning there with my son and we were able to pick up twelve crayfish. So that’s how close it is, and how good the fishing is today.

Now is there anything you’ve forgotten to tell me?

No, I don’t think … at a general level that’s all you need from me.

Angie, is there anything you’d like to say?

Angela: So my family are traditionally from the Rangitikei-Manawatu area, and I grew up for the majority of my life between Feilding and Palmerston. And I had a very happy and treasured childhood, with my father growing lots of organic vegetables and fruit; and being [an] artisan potter; and working at the local freezing works as well as being a minister at the local church, so quite a diverse lifestyle.

Brothers and sisters?

An older sister and a younger brother.

Their names?

Marinda Abbott is my older sister, and my brother is Lincoln Jurgens. They went on to have families of their own; Lincoln lives now over here, and loves Hawke’s Bay and calls it home as well, so that’s been nice for us. And yeah, lovely time at a wee country school where we enjoyed all the wonders of the sixties, seventies and eighties, and then on to Palmerston North Girls’ High School and Massey University where I met Chris. So that is a brief history.

Chris: I mean, we love going back to Turakina Beach where Ange’s mum, Jeanette, and her father, Trevor, have now retired.

Where’s Turakina?

Turakina is about thirty kilometres south of Whanganui and just thirty kilometres north of Bulls, so you go through the Turakina township, and then the beach village is on the coast.

So it’s between Foxton and Whanganui?

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. More between Bulls and Whanganui. So they’ve got a lovely place out there, and we enjoy going over there as much as we can.

Oh, that’s lovely. All right, well thank you, Chris, for the contribution you’ve made to Hawke’s Bay, you and Angie and your family.

Well, thank you. Thank you, Frank, for doing this undertaking.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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