On the road in New Zealand

Though it's pouring rain upon touching down at Auckland International Airport, I'm antsy and can't wait to hop on my bike after the long 14-hour flight from the States. This eagerness almost leads to disaster because while riding off into the heavy rain I neglect to remember New Zealanders drive on the wrong side of the road--then again, when New Zealanders visit the USA they probably say we’re the ones driving on the wrong side.

Carter Holt Harvey Ltd.

Manukau City, a suburb fifteen miles south of Auckland, is home base for Carter Holt Harvey, a forests products company with 1994 revenues of NZ$2.5 billion, net income NZ$325 million. CHH is the largest plantation forest owner in New Zealand, the largest pulp and paper manufacturer in NZ, the country's largest paperboard packaging manufacturer as well as operating 28 retail building supplies outlets.

Riding through the open, unattended, gated-entrance I pass a large pond filled with quacking ducks. I also pass several golfing holes (there's a nine-hole, par 3 course on the property). With Carter Holt Harvey being in the tree business, I'm not surprised to find the company's 28-acre site loaded with trees and vegetation indigenous to New Zealand.

I have a feeling this will be a fun visit because I'm barely in the front door when the receptionist cheerfully announces, "you must be Paul Wolsfeld-the cyclist". Sheryl James, Communications Assistant, soon arrives and after an enthusiastic welcome we embark on an extensive tour of the place.

Headquarters consists of three buildings built in the 1970's. The tallest being three stories, with total footage of all three totaling 42,000 square feet.

You don't need to join a health club if you work here because there's an impressive array of recreational facilities for the 160 headquarters employees to choose from. Besides golf, there's an outdoor 25-meter swimming pool, two tennis courts, two squash courts, a gym, pool tables and even dart boards. Come the weekends, ALL company-wide employees and their families are welcome to use the facilities.

CEO David Oskin's corner office has a view of the grounds and the good-looking rosewood boardroom table seats 12.

I spend a few minutes chatting with David Flacks, General Counsel and Company Secretary. After rattling off samples of trivia I've collected from various companies, Flacks feigns disappointment in his company's failure to come up with something worthy. However, being the resourceful guy he is, Flacks proceeds to save the day. How? Taking three baseball-size leather balls off his shelf-Flacks proceeds to do a juggling act. I'm impressed, in visiting over 1,500 companies it's the first time an executive (or anyone else for that matter) has put on a juggling exhibition for me.

The origins of Carter Holt Harvey date back to the late 1800's. Robert Holt, Francis Carter and Alexander Harvey began independently to build businesses, which would eventually, merge to form the present company.

Fletcher Challenge Ltd.

A seven-story building located five miles south of downtown Auckland houses the corporate offices of Fletcher Challenge. With NZ$8.1 billion in revenues and a profit of NZ$675 million in 1994 (US$4.8 billion and US$401 million respectively) Fletcher Challenge is one of New Zealand's biggest companies. Besides being the world's second largest manufacturer of newsprint, Fletcher has pulp and paper operations in 25 countries, has oil and gas operations plus, its Building Industries division activities encompass building materials, construction and wood products.

I'm amazed when Barry Akers, Corporate Communications Manager, says the 40,000 square foot building was built in the 1940's because it looks new. Turns out it was recently given an extensive renovation inside and out. Across the street several other buildings house various Fletcher Challenge divisions and behind them sits a big Fletcher steel making plant which has been churning out steel products since at least the 1940's.

Fletcher Challenge has an impressive corporate art collection scattered throughout the building. Limited to New Zealand artists, it's definitely a mish-mash. Taking center stage in the lobby is "Resting Limbs-From Another Archeology" by Andrew Drummond. This 10-foot tall collection of strange-looking bronze, copper and gold leaf pieces looks more like a series of oversized corkscrew openers. Compare it to the boardroom on the seventh floor, which contains six watercolor paintings from the late 1800's, each depicting a scenic landscape. By the way, the long, square-shaped rosewood boardroom table seating 20 is a beaut.

Fletcher Challenge is over 150 years old and there was a Mr. Fletcher. Current CEO Hugh Fletcher (in his mid-40's) is a descendant. I don't get to see Fletcher's office because "he's a private person". (For more information: FLC)

Lion Nathan Ltd.

It's November in Auckland and summer is only a few weeks away. In case you didn't know, the seasons are reversed. Come December, when many in the states are freezing-they're toasting down here. Hot weather is good news to Lion Nathan, which holds 60% of the beer market in New Zealand and 44% in Australia. Lion Nathan is also the bottler and distributor for Pepsi cola down under. Revenues for six months ending Feb. 28, 1994 were NZ$1.4 billion, profit NZ$113 million.

Meeting with Malcolm Don, Corporate Treasurer, I find out Lion Nathan leases the 17th and 18th floor of an almost new 18-story building in downtown Auckland. Thirty-five employees occupy the two floors.

CEO Douglas Myers has at least a dozen pictures of his family scattered around his corner office and, a large painting of his wife hanging on the wall. Don't see any beer paraphernalia.

Next door to the boardroom, which contains an oval-shaped table and Tele-conferencing equipment, is a small bar. I open the mini-refrigerator trying to find competitors beers or cans of Coca-Cola. Nope. Company brands of beer only-including Tooheys, Lion Ice and, Steinlager.

(For more information: LN)

Air New Zealand

Offices for Air New Zealand are easy to find near the downtown Auckland waterfront because its name in huge letters splashes across the top of the 21-story building in which it leases four floors. The reception areas contain several displays containing applications to join their frequent flyer and lounge clubs.

David Beatson, Manager-Public Affairs, says they've been in this building for two years. Across the street is a shorter office building that was home for 20 years. Though they moved two years ago and had their name removed from atop the sides of the smaller building--you can still plainly see the outline of the name Air New Zealand on the sides. Talk about your free advertising.

Until it was privatized in 1989, the government owned Air New Zealand. To have a say in the country's only international airline, the New Zealand government retains one share of stock. 1994 revenues were NZ$2.6 billion, profit NZ$191 million.

I don't get to see CEO James McCrea's office because he's in a meeting but, I'm told he has "at least 10" Air New Zealand model airplanes scattered about. (For more information: AR)

Fernz Corporation

Several miles from downtown and across the street from the city's largest park sits the five-story, 40,000 square foot headquarters of Fernz Corporation, a manufacturer and marketer of agricultural chemicals, animal health products and fertilizers.

The company-owned structure looks to have been built in the 1960's but to my amazement-Trevan Smith, Corporate Secretary, says it's only 13 years old. Smith says, "It's one of those buildings which was built to last 15 years and then get a complete renovation."

Sixty employees work in the offices of the 78-year old company. The name Fernz is derived from the "fer" in fertilizer and the NZ in New Zealand. Revenues in 1994 were NZ$446 million, net income NZ$38 million.

Nothing fancy about CEO Kerry Hoggard's corner office or the wedge-shaped boardroom table seating 24. I do, however, find something unusual in a room off to the side of the boardroom. The large table in the room serves a dual purpose: one is to serve meals during board meetings and two, hide a regulation-size billiard table underneath it. Seems the former CEO had a hankering for the game.

(For more information FER)

Fisher & Paykel Industries Ltd.

Finding the corporate offices for Fisher & Paykel Industries takes me 12 miles south of Auckland to one of their plants. The company manufactures their own line of household appliances (washers, dryers, refrigerators etc.) as well as being a seller of Panasonic consumer electronics products. Revenues were NZ$670 million, NZ$27 million net profit in 1994.

Wandering around the reception area waiting to meet with Richard Blundell, General Manager-Planning/Corporate Affairs, I check out the large line of company products on display and read the company mission statement prominently posted on the wall in large letters.

Though 1,300 employees work in the plant, only seven people work in the corporate offices. It's the open office concept with one large room. CEO Gary Paykel occupies the only enclosed office. Gary's father, Maurice Paykel (who's still alive) and Sir Woolf Fisher founded the company back in 1934.

CEO Paykel's middle office contains a television/VCR and as one would expect--it's a Panasonic.

The 40-acre site, formerly a stud farm owned by one of the company founders, contains volleyball courts and touch rugby fields.

Blundell tells me the story of the company's homemade pies. No, I'm not talking about fruit pies but, meat pies. They're very big in New Zealand. Long ago, the company president was sick and tired of the puny size of the pies sold by the locals so, he closed the plant down for a day, got all the engineers together and came up with a much larger meat pie. The company started making their own pies from scratch and sold them in the company cafeteria. When moving out to the current site several years ago the powers that be decided the pie making would be contracted out. Employees raised such a stink that management backed away from the plan. Per my request, I'm taken to the kitchen where the chef opens a walk-in cooler. Inside are racks and racks of oversized, ready-to-be-baked pies for tomorrow's lunch crowd.

In the conference room where Blundell answers my questions I notice a Panasonic Panaboard. This is the fourth company I've visited in New Zealand to have one. These white boards are like marker pen boards many companies use. What's the catch? Before wiping away whatever's on the magic marker board you can press a button and it'll make a copy of what's on it. Blundell says many companies use New Zealand as a test market for new products. (For more information: FAP)

This and that on Auckland

I find out Mair Astley Holdings Ltd., a manufacturer and exporter of venison products, hides, skins and finished leather is a user of their own products. Lee Higgins, Corporate Communications, says the leather couch and leather counter top in the reception area is Mair Astley's. Twelve employees work on the second floor of a 12-story building about a half-mile from downtown. Company revenues in 1994 were NZ$185 million, profit NZ$1 million.

Walking into NZI Insurance's building I'm disappointed to find they hadn't received the material sent in advance. While waiting to see if someone will meet with me, I thumb through a company annual report. Egads, turns out NZI became a subsidiary of General Accident plc of Scotland, one of Britain's largest insurers, back in 1989. Knowing I'll be visiting the parent when in Europe, I politely say, "never mind", when the two NZI officials return.

Boy, it sure is strange to see police officers not carrying guns. Except for officers at airports, police in New Zealand don't carry guns. Something else I've never seen until now; cashiers sitting in chairs while manning the checkouts at supermarkets.

On the road in Wellington

First, a geography lesson. New Zealand consists of two islands. The two combined would equal the size of California or Japan. The North Island contains the country's two biggest cities. Auckland (with over a million people living in the metropolitan area) lies in the northern part, while Wellington, the nation's capital with a population of 300,000 lies on the southern tip of the North Island. Total population of New Zealand is three million, with over one third living in the Auckland area.

Brierley Investments Ltd.

According to Brierley Investments Ltd.'s annual report, it "acquires significant shareholdings in undervalued businesses. Through direct involvement BIL brings about the change required to improve cashflow and earnings, and thereby expose the real strategic value of those businesses". With a profit NZ$380 million on 1994 revenues of NZ$1.6 billion, this investment company must be doing something right. Besides having a stake in a variety of New Zealand and Australian companies (including a large share of Air New Zealand), BIL's subsidiaries include: Austotel- Australia's largest hotel and tavern chain, Hutton's Kiwi-the largest domestic bacon, ham and smallgoods operator in New Zealand, LWR Industries-the largest textile and apparel manufacturer in New Zealand, Molokai Ranch-a 53,000 acre ranch on the Hawaiian island of Molokai and, The Mount Charlotte Group-the second largest hotel group in the UK.

Considering the company's clout in New Zealand, BIL's offices have been located the last 12 years in a blah-looking, not very impressive, 14-story downtown office building known as the Colonial Mutual Life building.

With over 20 years with the company, Paddy Marra, General Manager-Corporate, turns out to be the right person giving me the lowdown. None of the companies visited so far in New Zealand have had corporate aircraft but I was told BIL would. "Nope", says Marra. "We sold the Falcon 900 last month to International Paper".

The company's art collection is primarily New Zealand artists and leans toward watercolors, lithographs and paintings showing history. Most impressive is J.C. Hoyte's "The Gap Sydney Harbour" an oil on canvas painted in 1857.

The oblong boardroom table seating 16 is nice but, the antique brass telescope and antique brass balancing scale gives needed pizzazz to the room.

The top floor office of CEO Paul Collins contains a mounted head of a tar deer (which he shot), a half dozen crayola drawings from his kids, at least 15 tombstones, three real plants, a computer and an empty gumball machine. (For more information BRY)

Independent Newspapers Ltd.

I'm wrong. Independent Newspapers Ltd.'s offices aren't located in the same building as their flagship paper-The Dominion. Besides having the only paper in Wellington (The Dominion), it publishes Christchurch's only paper, the Christchurch Press. Revenues in 1994 were NZ$940 million, profit NZ$47 million.

Nothing fancy about the leased digs here as I meet with Hamish Turnbill, Company Secretary, on the fifth floor of another dowdy-looking, 12-story building in downtown Wellington. Seventeen employees work on one and a half floors.

Walking around CEO Mike Robson's office I see several ceramic penguins (made by his children), two golf balls on his desk, a computer, a black chair with Brown University stamped on it and, an old, beat-up brief case which looks like it was thrown out a plane at 60,000 feet.

The nearest motorway is a half-mile away. No such things as freeways or interstates in New Zealand. There's Motorway North and Motorway South. (For more information: INL)

This and that on Wellington

Foreign banks own the four biggest banks in New Zealand. Trust Bank, with NZ$8.5 billion in assets is the largest locally owned. Nothing interesting to report at the 20-story building where Trust Bank leases five floors.

New Zealand’s government owned telecom New Zealand Ltd., (100% until 1990). New Zealand Telecom is the principal supplier of telecommunications services in New Zealand. Revenues in 1994 were US$1.4 billion, profit US$296 million. You'd think I'd get a great reception because this formerly 100% NZ government owned concern is now 24.82% owned by Ameritech and 24.82% owned by Bell Atlantic, two big US telecommunications companies. Nope. I show up several times at the two, leased 10-story twin towers but, leave after no one shows interest in meeting with me.

The world triathlon championships are going on in Wellington (despite strong winds which are evidently a year round problem) and over 1500 athletes from 70 nations are here. Saw quite a few women taking swimming practice in the harbor, running and biking around town. In California terminology; boy, do they have awesome-looking bodies!

Wellington reminds me of a mini-San Francisco with its hilly downtown terrain and picturesque harbor.

On a food note, the creme-filled donuts in New Zealand are fantastic! Real fresh creme is used by most of the bakeries (not the imitation kind used in the States). Apricots are big here. It's apricot pies, apricot squares, apricot turnovers, jeez, even McDonald's restaurants carry apricots pies instead of their usual peach, apple or cherry.

Canterbury International Ltd.

The only way trucks, cars, trains and bicyclists have of getting between the North Island and South Island involves taking a three-hour ride on one of several large ferries plying the waters across the Cook Strait. Christchurch (population 300,000) sits on the East Coast of the South Island roughly 230 miles south of Wellington.

Canterbury International Ltd, with sales of about NZ$80 million, is an apparel manufacturer. It's a subsidiary of LWR Industries, New Zealand's largest textile and clothing manufacturer--which in turn is a subsidiary of Brierley Investments. What am I doing visiting this company's headquarters in Christchurch? For the last 20 years I've been biking in their rugby shorts. Matter of fact, when visiting companies, my uniform so-to-speak consists of a BLOOMBERG T-shirt, Canterbury of New Zealand shorts and top-siders.

Have a fun time visiting for several hours with CEO John Margetts. I meet with him in a large first floor showroom that has been set-up to be a prototype of redesigned Canterbury of New Zealand retail stores.

Corporate offices are in a three-story building several miles from downtown Christchurch. Thirty-six work in corporate but, next door is a huge factory which is the largest employer in town. Rugby is THE sport in New Zealand and Canterbury supplies the clothes for the ALL BLACKS, the name of the national rugby team (who's uniforms-you guessed it--are all black). It comes as no surprise then to find a rugby ball in Margetts' office signed by the players.

I tell Margetts about my visit to Jockey International in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Upon meeting me the President asked what kind of underwear I was wearing. I said, "Haines". He disappeared for a minute and returned with a half-dozen, black, bikini-style, padded underwear the company was coming out with in the future for bicyclists. "Try these out", he said. Several days later I tried riding in a pair and they were awful. I'm sorry to say I never did relay my feelings to the President.

I ask Margetts how come they haven't come out with a dressier style short. He gets on the phone and calls one of the clothes designers to the room. I then give him my wish list for the perfect short. Guess what? They're going to design a sample and send it to me to try out. The catch? Margetts says I have to promise to let them know what I think of it (unlike at Jockey where I neglected to give feedback).

The company's competitors according to Margetts are Nike and Polo by Ralph Lauren. The flat, farming area-surrounding Christchurch is known as the Canterbury plains; hence the company name.