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3 Boys and 30 Years

Employers Professional & Managerial
Simon Bennett

In my second year of university in Dunedin, my trips to Wanaka and drinking bouts were at times interrupted by lectures and a call to my stock broker. It’s funny looking back; at the time, I had quite a portfolio of equities. My first was Brierleys (BIL), which is known to many my age but is not a familiar name to our Gen Ys today. Another was RJI, the listed entity of the still well-known Bob Jones.

The sad thing is that I can’t recall any others, despite having bought them with hard-earned money from my holiday jobs as a painter, meat-worker, and barman. I remember the strong desire to build capital, which drove me to work every university holidays. In my final year in Dunedin, I was working close to a 40 hour week at The Bowler, a local pub.

Post the stock market crash of 1987, the years I spent working helped heal the wounds inflicted as my life savings were wiped out and I was taught the value of money. It is notable that other than these two stocks mentioned, I don’t recall the others, as my ‘punts’ were based on chats around my mates or whatever ‘OConnor Grieve’ was punting. There was no research and no sector interest upon which I based my decisions.

I have an entrepreneurial father. The kitchen table discussions with my brother Matt, a lawyer, and Tim, now the CEO of NZX, would generally centre around business rather than sport. Perhaps it was because we had flown the coup or perhaps it was because we had all lost some money and didn’t want to admit our failures, but we never discussed our infatuation with the New Zealand stock market in the 80s and our paper gains that became real losses.

I think this was really defining for the three Bennett boys, as we were all ambitious and confident, yet after that moment, realised that things were not going to fall in our laps. When Tim was finishing university, post stock market crash, the job market collapsed and the dream of securing the job with a global bank vanished. My talk of ‘not needing a degree’ stopped and I curbed my social activities to secure my BCom – although I joke that it was a giveaway with 5000 jugs of beer at the Gardies Tavern (sadly not with us today)!

I was determined to get ahead on my own. Impatient, I started my own business in Wellington in 1993 at the age of 26. I rented a building, fitted it out for food production, and went about finding a market for baked goods and desserts. This started my journey building and running businesses. I could never have predicted that this would have led me to the recruitment industry and Madison, let alone a purchase by the listed AWF. I run this subsidiary of a listed entity whilst my brother Tim has returned to run the NZ listed exchange and our regulator.

What an interesting place I find myself! Business confidence is at an all-time high, measured by intention to hire. Being in recruitment, we are at the heart of this – I wonder whether I should call it a bubble or a curve! I look to the market for answers and feel like I am hearing the same type of chat from friends that I heard in the 80s. When I hear about the latest tech IPO (as a sometimes investor), I wonder about the rationale for valuing companies at a multiple of revenue rather than earnings.

While I certainly can’t bring myself to put all my capital in the equities market like the 80s, I’m encouraged to see some sensibility in the market with latest IPOs getting away but without the bragging and ‘stagging’ of thirty years ago. With the tightening of the labour market and the economy strengthening, I look forward to a few more talented Kiwis returning home, including my brother Matt so that we can resume our kitchen table chats. Shame the older brother will give us the boring “I can’t comment on individual companies” comment.