Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Extract - Allan Hubbard: Man Out of Time

One can tell from the preface of the authorised Allan Hubbard Biography, Allan Hubbard: Man Out of Time, that this book is not going to be a critical look at the life and times of what is probably the most infamous and definitely the largest case of corporate collapse brought on by greed and carelessness of one man, Allan Hubbard.

The Author, Virginia Green, got to know Allan Hubbard well over the last 5 years and appears, from the preface of the book, to be quite smitten with him in a girlish, giggly sort of subjective schoolgirl manner.

There is little evidence from the beginning of the book that there has been much critical thinking on the authors part.

From Chapter 16 comes an example some of the breathless and uncritical accounts of Allan Hubbard's business practices:

"One of those investment channels, his Te Tua charitable trust, had helped a hundred young people get their first farms by lending them money interest-free. At the time the trust had $25 million loaned out to sharemilkers and first-time farmers...

The award singled out the value of Allan’s investment in rural people over the years, through a number of channels, and ‘his uncanny ability to pick the best operators’. One of those investment channels, his Te Tua charitable trust, had helped a hundred young people get their first farms by lending them money interest-free. "

This is of course the same trust that the statutory managers of multiple Hubbard financial entities, Grant Thornton, has found:

"The state of Te Tua’s loan records is very poor. The report separates the Te Tua loan book into nine categories covering 104 loans. Of Aorangi’s $24 million investment, a “worst case” estimate
indicates that only $6.88 million of this may be recoverable. The report also highlights the transfer to Te Tua from Presbyterian Support Services SC Inc at face value of $2.7 million debentures held in finance companies after these companies ceased paying interest or were placed in moratorium". Grant Thornton Report 4 , Nov 2010

Allan Hubbard gave investors money (remember many loans were interest free) to those who were never able to pay back their loans and who nobody else would loan money to and this cavalier attitude to others money is not critiqued by Virgina in the extracts that follow.

Read the NBR's Matt Nippert Review of this book


Extracts from, Allan Hubbard: Man Out of Time

Preface



Allan Hubbard remains an enigma even to his close associates, but I was fortunate to meet him at a time when he was opening up about the hardships of his dismal childhood. He had read my earlier book, Radio Fidelity: Story of Angus Tait and an Industry Sparked by Loyalty, on the father of New Zealand’s electronic industry, Angus Tait, a man Allan admired and who was related to Allan’s wife Jean. I asked if I could see him and perhaps persuade him to work with me on a biography of his own. He said by all means come, but he doubted a book about him would be of interest. So late December 2005 I met Allan for the first time. He was in the office on a Saturday and opened up the doors to me dressed in the shaggy brown hand-knitted jersey and roman sandals that make up his unvarying weekend attire. He kicked off our meeting by saying that he was just ordinary, but the story he told me was anything but.

Allan survived an impoverished childhood in Dunedin by turning to petty crime and running a gang that controlled whole swathes of the Leith stream and surrounding hillsides. With no money even for coal to cook meals, he became very resourceful in meeting his and his family’s needs. His dance on the wrong side of the law might have developed into a fully-fledged life of crime if it hadn’t been for the Knox Church community that embraced him, challenged him with rigorous scouting activities, tried to strong-arm its moral code into him and finally succeeded by giving him a book that transformed his life.

Allan didn’t agree to do a biography in 2005, but he did lend me his precious copy of ‘the book’, a memoir of the Reverend Fergus McLaren, a fallen war hero who was the kind of man he wished his father had been. On a subsequent trip to Wanaka, I visited the Hawea Flats church and sent Allan a photo of the memorial there to Fergus. He wrote to me that he was moved to tears by this photo, because it reminded him of the pilgrimage he’d made as a 17-year-old to the Central Otago churches Fergus had preached at.

Our correspondence continued and he sent me other books that were important to him. Finally early in 2007 he agreed to embark on this book together. He spoke with great gusto about the experiences of his youth, and I learned what entertaining company he could be. He spoke in less detail about the businesses, but we sketched out a plan for how to approach them — a chapter for each of the major businesses he was associated with. It was only later I realised the sheer scope of my assignment: to condense the history of five major businesses into single chapters. Not to mention the expanse of Allan’s philanthropic activities, his assistance to the South Canterbury region and farming, and not least the friendships he’d nurtured since his childhood. The only area that was off-limits was his family. Jean Hubbard was happy to be interviewed but I agreed to her request to maintain the privacy of their daughters.

A comprehensive biography would have taken ten years and several volumes. I decided to show representative examples of Allan’s work and focus on the people stories that expressed the unique way that Allan worked as a businessman and as a philanthropist.

So this book has developed over the last few years, from interviews with Allan during regular visits to Timaru, interviews with his associates around the country, and from other research. From time to time Allan would express reservations about publishing his biography — that it would seem like ‘skiting’. I was able to reassure him that many, many people were keen to hear his story. Late 2009, when South Canterbury Finance looked shaky, Allan asked me to delay the end of the book until events played out. Neither of us could have imagined the ordeal he would endure in 2010. It’s worth remembering that SCF had a long and profitable history; it was the good news story among finance companies until July 2009. It became important to me to examine the causes of SCF’s problems and ultimate failure, and to ask why the government chose to move against Allan Hubbard at the time when he had a real prospect for rescuing the company. The conclusions I came to are my own, and not Allan’s.

Virginia Green
October 2010


Chapter 1.

‘Just an Existence’ — A Child of the Depression

Dunedin: ‘a wealthy little city where the rich inhabited the hills and looked out to sea and the poor inhabited the flat and looked at each other.’

1
As a youngster, Allan ‘Hooligan’ Hubbard was well known to the Dunedin police. The cheeky lad’s delinquent behaviour made him a local nuisance, but he was hardly ever caught. So when a uniformed policeman stood in the doorway of the Hubbard home one day, it was serious. Allan was innocent — in this case — and he protested. But he failed to convince his drunken father. As punishment, Edward Hubbard savaged his oldest child with a terrible beating. It was not Allan’s first thrashing, but the injustice of it, on top of the wretchedness of his life during the Great Depression, tipped him into such despair that he swore to kill himself.

It’s clear why Allan felt hopeless. He was one of the poor kids from the flats of Dunedin North, a slum-pocked neighbourhood whose cramped, run-down houses huddled in the shadow of the stone towers of Otago University. Born into a working-class family on 23 March 1928, Allan was still an infant when the Depression struck. New Zealand was already feeling the effects of economic recession, and the sharp drop in export earnings from 1929 onward provoked an extended crisis. National income plummeted by 40 per cent, internal commerce dwindled, and thousands of working-class families became desperate.

While the 1920s in New Zealand had seen great improvements in urban families’ living conditions — electricity and gas, motorised transport, sanitation — these gains passed the Hubbards by. Throughout the thirties and forties they had no motor vehicle, and the family’s rented house at 80 Forth Street had neither electricity nor hot water.

For bathing and food preparation, the family had to make do with a scullery sink and a single tap. If Allan’s mother Margaret wanted hot water, she put a kettle on the coal range that served for both cooking and heating. ‘Keeping the stove alight was a time-consuming process. Coal or wood had to be . . . constantly supplied . . . It was also a battle to keep the family stove clean.’2 Kerosene lamps gave flickering light. If you turned up the wick, you could extract a bit more light at greater cost. Once a month, Margaret Hubbard would heat water and wash her family in a tin tub on the kitchen floor.

The Hubbards’ wooden house had three rooms for the family of seven: a combined kitchen/living room and two bedrooms. Allan’s parents had one of the bedrooms and all five children slept in the other, two of the girls topping and tailing in one bed. Apple boxes served as furniture, and the children had sacks for blankets. There was an unheated outside lavatory and a washhouse with a couple of concrete tubs and a wringer.

It was not the prosperous life that Allan’s immigrant ancestors had sought. Edward and Maria Hubbard, Allan’s paternal great-grandparents, had emigrated in 1873 from Waltham Abbey, a North London suburb, and settled in Akaroa where Edward operated a sawmill. Their son James, Allan’s grandfather, set up a dry-cleaning business in Dunedin. But the promise of a new start for the Hubbard family drained away with his heavy drinking. The business folded and James Hubbard became a ‘nightman’ — the man who drove the ‘nightcart’ door to door after midnight, collecting and disposing of the effluent from backyard toilets. James died before Allan was born. Allan was told that his grandfather had gone to a big drinking party at the North End Rowing Club, then collapsed in a stupor outside and died of exposure.

Allan’s father, also named Edward, was born in Dunedin in 1897. A shortish man, but well set, he walked with a limp from a bayonet wound suffered in the Great War. Edward was a plumber by trade, but was out of work in the thirties. It was a fate he shared with many. Roughly 20 per cent of adult men were receiving assistance from the Employment Promotion Fund set up in December 1930. Almost certainly this figure understates the real numbers of those out of work. (Unemployed women, for example, were not eligible to register for assistance.) At its peak, the number of unemployed and underemployed men probably approached a third of the adult male population.

Labour took up the cause of the unemployed, but the party was in opposition in the first half of the thirties, and the coalition government headed by Prime Minister George William Forbes had other priorities. To help restore the nation’s trading capacity, the government provided some relief for farmers but little for unemployed city dwellers who became increasingly desperate. Labour MP John A. Lee persuaded the party to organise mass meetings against the government’s policy of retrenchment. In his birth city of Dunedin he declared ‘war . . . against those who are trying to drag the people down to degradation and poverty’.3 Lee predicted violence, and the streets of Dunedin were soon to echo with the anger and distress of hungry men and women.

On 9 January 1932, a procession of unemployed marched on the offices of the Otago Hospital Board to demand relief. When they were denied assistance, the enraged crowd rushed to the nearby Wardell Brothers’ grocery store where they broke windows and stole groceries. An emergency relief depot was opened after the riot, but on 9 April new rioting shook Dunedin, resulting in injuries to several people. The stress on out-of-work families increased in 1933 when the government introduced compulsory work camps for men claiming unemployment relief.
The Hubbard family was among those struggling to survive on less than a living wage. Allan’s father was known as a good worker and scrambled for what little work was available. As a small child, Allan walked four miles with him on Sunday mornings to milk a cow, to provide some nutrition for the family. But eventually Edward Hubbard was forced to take relief work planting pine trees at Waipori, a forest established by the Dunedin City Council using Depression labour. For several years Edward lived at a camp in Central Otago, coming home only rarely. Allan recalls a visit to the camp one school holiday, when he accompanied his father on the five-mile journey to a store and annoyed the elder Hubbard because he didn’t walk fast enough. Edward lived in a tent and had to buy his own provisions. Camp conditions were poor, if not appalling, and got worse in 1939 when the relief workers at Waipori endured severe winter storms and snowfall that damaged the forests.

Relief work was hard on the men, but was seen as providing long-term benefits to the wider community: ‘the unemployed provided invaluable labour in the forests achieving record plantings.’ Like everything else, relief work was in short supply, and neither the work nor the pittance paid was satisfactory to the men and their families who were torn apart.
Edward Hubbard survived the experience. But his violence towards his elder son, his constant drinking and seeming inability to help his family rise above their poverty indicate both a sense of abasement and rage about his plight. Despite being a third generation New Zealander, his mindset was that they were working class, and could never rise above that.

Allan later observed that drinking was a way for his father to forget his circumstances. But Allan’s sympathies always lay with his mother, Margaret. As a child he was only too aware that his mother carried the full burden of the growing family. In the 1930s, she gave birth to three daughters, and then another son. What was left over from Edward’s small wage and living expenses too often went on alcohol and gambling, leaving nothing for his family. Because Edward had served in the Great War, the family got a meagre handout from the Returned Services Association. Allan remembers visiting the RSA and getting a loaf of stale bread and some dried-up apples. With no support from the state, Margaret had to scratch a living for herself and her children.

Already taxed by a heavy load of domestic chores done without the aid of modern appliances, his mother also took in laundry. Once a week Allan would deliver clean laundry to the Gentlemen’s Club, and collect the dirty laundry to bring back. He’d watch his mother clean the big loads of sheets and pillowcases, towels, tablecloths and serviettes. First she would light a fire under the bricked-in copper so the washing could be boiled. After the wash, she would lift the steaming load on a stick and rinse it in cold water in the tub. Then came the heavy job of feeding the washing through the hand-operated wringer to a second tub where it would soak in a blue rinse before another trip through the wringer. She’d dip the table linen in starch, and then carry the load outside in a wash basket to hang on the line. Finally she’d press the dry laundry with a solid metal iron that had to be heated first on the stove and cleaned after each use so it wouldn’t leave black marks.5 Allan recalls finding her hard at work one night: ‘We had an outside loo and I remember getting up in the middle of the night, it might be two o’clock, and my mother was still working there in the washhouse by candlelight. She used to tell me how much she’d earned for doing it and I would collect the money and give it to her. It might have been five shillings a week, next to nothing.’

The forebears of Allan’s mother Margaret had emigrated from Britain to Australia in the 1850s. Her MacDonald grandmother came from the Scottish Highlands and her Pritchard grandfather hailed from County Armagh in Northern Ireland. Margaret Vivienne was born in Melbourne on 3 June 1898 of an unknown father. She came to New Zealand with her mother and three sisters in 1908. In 1926, at the age of 28, Margaret married Edward Hubbard in Dunedin. Two years later she gave birth to Allan, her first son.

Margaret was a well-built woman, but she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, aggravated by the long hours doing laundry. The young Allan watched her submerge her hands in melted wax to relieve the pain. ‘My mother had an enormously hard life. She borrowed from moneylenders — she was always in debt. I never saw her go out to the pictures or anywhere. She didn’t have any clothes, nothing for herself.’

Despite the privations of her life, Margaret Hubbard worked strenuously to bring up her children and did her best to care for them. Allan’s lifelong friend, Les Carrick, notes that Allan always looked well dressed. Margaret used to buy her children’s clothes from jumble sales. They always wore second-hand clothes, but Allan recalls she was fussy and most particular about cleanliness.

Chapter 16. Local hero — Support for South Canterbury Farmers

For a shy man, Allan Hubbard could give a speech that never failed to capture his audience. Allan made one of his rare public appearances in March 2006 to accept a lifetime achievement honour at the Fonterra Westpac Dairy Excellence Awards. The citation recognised his contribution to farming, and more recently to the dairy industry, based on his unwavering belief in the value of the rural community to New Zealand. His acceptance speech laid bare his early struggles and went on to affirm his confidence in the opportunities dairying offered for hard-working people. ‘What other place could you start out at 16 and by the time you’re 24 or 25 be a farm manager running 1000 cows and earning $80,000 to $90,000 a year?’

The award singled out the value of Allan’s investment in rural people over the years, through a number of channels, and ‘his uncanny ability to pick the best operators’. One of those investment channels, his Te Tua charitable trust, had helped a hundred young people get their first farms by lending them money interest-free.

At the time the trust had $25 million loaned out to sharemilkers and first-time farmers. When asked how he selected the people to back, Allan said, ‘I like to take a look at their balance sheet. I want to see what their drawings are.’ It was no surprise to those who knew him that the ability to save and work hard was the key to gaining his sponsorship.

Allan also backed farmers who were in a predicament due to no fault of their own. The clients he had served as professional advisor for more than 50 years were among those in the farming community who honoured him in 2006 for his unstinting efforts. The message that kept coming through was ‘the respect and loyalty they have for Allan, both as a businessman and an individual’.

Geraldine farmer Graham Carr has heard many stories within the farming community of Allan’s help making a crucial difference:

A lot of young people with get up and go take over their father’s business, but find it difficult to finance when they want to expand. Allan is very good with them, and also with people who have the ability but something’s gone wrong. They become debt-free and have a huge asset, simply because Allan financed them to let them hang in through difficult times.


Saving the Farm — The Eugene Casey Story

One of those who got a hand up from Allan Hubbard is Eugene Casey. He’d grown up on the family property, an old-style dairy farm of 350 acres at Pleasant Point. But the farm wasn’t big enough to support the four Casey sons, and when their father died, Eugene’s two older brothers took it over.

Eugene forged a new career in tourism, gaining recognition for his people skills. By his late thirties, though, he was planning a future in Christchurch as a builder when he got a call from his retired mother. The farm had proved difficult for his brothers to manage and had run into financial trouble. Would he come home and sort it out? Eugene was not interested. He was newly engaged and ready to settle down to city life. His mother then sweetened her offer with a promise that Eugene would be in charge as manager of the business. Reluctantly, he agreed to come, but asked her to give him a fortnight to get organised. Mrs Casey played her final card: the animals, the 400 cows, were suffering. Eugene arrived at the farm the next day.

He found a rundown mess and a mountain of debt. He says he will never forget the trials of that first winter of 1998. He spent the next six months working 20-hour days to provide care for the animals and restore the farm to working order. Hobbled by debt, he attempted to get relief from the banks, but they didn’t want to know him. Eugene was painfully aware that the farm that had been well run in his father’s day had now slipped below modern standards. He needed new machinery, new stock and a new dairy shed to bring the operation up to scratch, but his prospects for increasing the farm debt seemed dim.

The only way he could see to raise the money he required was to go contract milking. He knew he needed a good accountant to advise him and asked around. The name Allan Hubbard came up — who was he? Eugene secured an appointment, and when he walked into Allan’s office two weeks later he found Allan ‘knew more about me that I knew about myself!’

Allan had tapped his contacts in the Pleasant Point district and learned that Eugene had toiled long and hard to restore the farm. It was just the kind of story to warm his heart. Then he warmed to the young farmer in person as Eugene plainly laid out his business problems. But when Eugene described his sharemilking solution, Allan was quick to put the kibosh on it. He noted that Eugene’s brothers had presided over the decline of the farm, and he asked Eugene why he should work himself ragged to enrich them. Instead, he made Eugene a proposition. ‘Allan said, “Why don’t you buy the farm and farm it yourself? How would you feel if someone lent you $1 million to help you buy it?” I asked him who would be silly enough to do that, and he said, “I would.” I nearly fell off the chair!’

Allan put the deal together with an American investor in an equity partnership that funded not only the purchase of the farm from the Casey family but Eugene’s project to upgrade the property. It was a dream outcome. ‘[The deal] prevented the property from going into receivership and made my mother debt-free — her retirement home was paid for. And I had an opportunity to farm as I’d always wanted.’

Eugene set to work. With the resources now at his disposal, he was quickly able to build a dairy shed and make the needed improvements. A year later, he had the home farm ticking over nicely when a neighbour approached him and suggested Eugene buy his farm block. Eugene consulted with Allan and found he already knew about the neighbour, the farm, and the pros and cons. He wasted no time and told Eugene to buy it. ‘Allan’s mind works so efficiently.’

It was the beginning of a period of expansion that saw Eugene and his partner, Jackie, increase their holdings and their debt. More land and more cows meant the need for staff. Within a couple of years Eugene had employed five people who needed to be housed. Eugene and Jackie decided to accommodate the staff in their existing house, and took the opportunity to build a new farmhouse. As they built up their earnings and their equity, they and their equity, they were able to secure bank funding.

The couple had moved into their new house in 2005 when Allan told them that he’d heard another neighbouring property was on the market. ‘Allan asked what the farm was like and I said “Terrible!”’ The farm in question had a reputation as one of the worst farms in the area, one of those ‘dirty dairy farms’. But in this boom time for land sales, that didn’t mean a discounted price. Eugene took another look and, having turned around one farm, decided he was up for the challenge. He consulted Allan on the price, put in his tender and won it.

The Hubbards’ trust fund advanced the money for the purchase and then double that amount to redevelop the property, which brought the total amount of the Caseys’ loan to more than $5 million. Eugene expected the arrangement would be a partnership on the new farm, but Allan told him, ‘It’s yours.’ It was a good deal for the Caseys.

Dairying is a lifestyle. Eugene and Jackie couldn’t just knock off work on a Friday afternoon and come back on Monday. Day in and day out, the cows have to be milked, and in the season they also have to be calved. Day or night.

Early on, Eugene had got his ‘city’ partner Jackie involved with the animals, but not without some initial hesitation on her part over a cow that baulked in the milking shed. ‘Actually a very friendly cow,’ according to Eugene. But Jackie stuck with it and, one year after moving onto the family farm, she married Eugene, a ceremony that Allan attended. Jackie became an expert breeder and calf-rearer, doing the herd tracking and maintaining their breeding database.

By 2009, the Caseys employed 10 staff and ran the second farm as a separate company. They bought out their American equity partner and retired the capital of the Hubbard trust loan.

Eugene is appreciative of Allan’s crucial support and generosity, but says he knows people who have gone to Allan for help and been turned down. Allan was straight up when he sensed a business deal, or the people involved, were not right.

Even years after first helping the Caseys, Allan kept a close watch. Eugene was aware that Allan continued to look for frugality and tried not to disappoint — the Caseys live on less than an average wage, choosing to invest their profits in improving the farms. But Eugene recalled a time when their money-saving ways came back to bite Allan. His grandson had been working on the farm, gaining experience in the business. When Allan visited one holiday while the Caseys were away, the boy took time to show him around the place.

They took my farm ute, an old Holden with a hole in the floor. The boy drove Allan way down the back of the farm to show him the cows. Then the truck broke down and they had to walk back. I don’t think Allan was very impressed. But he didn’t insist I buy a new ute!

Water Is the Key — The Opuha Dam Story

The South Canterbury region is notoriously drought-prone, which made farming a continual battle for many. A crisis arrived in the 1980s in the wake of three drought years and falling wool prices. A Totara Valley farmer summed up the feeling of his community, ‘There was no joy in farming — the whole of that decade we were in survival mode.’6 But Allan Hubbard believed his region had the potential to be one of the richest agricultural areas of the country.

Allan had first-hand knowledge of the rewards of irrigating his first farm at Ealing under the old Rangitata Diversion Scheme. He had also gained a wider perspective on a trip to California to visit his daughter. While his family went shopping in San Francisco, Allan met an engineer from a regional water board, which led to a two-day tour around irrigation schemes. He saw how water could transform a dry area into valuable productive...

There will be more from me on the Allan Hubbard: Man Out of Time when I can lay my hands on a copy and can find the time to read it.


Allan Hubbard Saga


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c Share Investor 2010