Gregory Noel Rathbun was born into a large family, six kids living in Dunedin. Very much the struggling working class, what he describes as good honest Kiwi stock. Greg describes a fun evening as sharing a tin of baked beans and spending the night under a sheet and the one who lasted the longest would be allowed to have the only single bed. At the age of five the family moved to Auckland under witness protection, after his mother was instrumental as an undercover truck driver in a major anti competition case with New Zealand Rail.
Greg’s father worked for government workshops – now known as New Zealand Post. Well, when we say ‘work’ he worked on “homers” until Richard Prebble spoilt the charade and sold the Post Office and Telecom. Back then (other than personal projects or if the pub was closed) they had telecommunication technicians, built decks for the trucks, desks for the branches, had a mechanic and paint shop, as well as handling the mail and packages.
Starting in Otara, Greg journeyed through the Catholic schooling system. His greatest achievement in those days was getting the school record for standing outside of class facing the corner and breaking the school straps during canings. At age 10, they moved to Papatoetoe where his father built a house. They didn’t have enough money to buy one, especially to house six kids, as the police realised Greg’s mother was in fact a double agent and the weekly pension ceased. Greg’s father built the house himself with the good old Kiwi attitude and contraband from the Post Office. Greg says he learned a lot during this time – about attitude, lying, getting rid of bodies under concrete drives, and honour amongst thieves.
There was a greenhouse next door to the family home and Greg used to help with their tomatoes and cannabis – grading and packing. With the money he earned, he bought his first car at the early age of 15 so he could trade drugs all over Auckland instead of where he could cycle.
At De la Salle College in Mangere East, Greg was a bit of an all-rounder. He was good at sports and in the classroom and managed to stay out of jail unlike many of his classmates. He was good at accounting and maths, due to handling the drug cash and he went to Auckland University and says he just cruised through due to plagiarism being harder to detect in those days. He was involved with rugby and rowing, but when it came to class work, he just did enough to pass thinking that a C+ was enough. He later realised it was this laziness and tendency to take the easy option that would define his life going forward.
Whilst at Uni, he worked in roading – fixing up tar seal on roads and carparks, where his skills at making bodies disappear came to the fore again. The income meant he could go out and party, and neglect his illegitimate children now scattered around Auckland due to the drug dealing where he would often take ‘favours’ instead of cash. At the age of 20 he bought his first house due to a successful kidnap ransom. He felt like a typical Kiwi, but the neighbours always complained about the noise and strange comings and goings during all hours. Having got his accounting degree, and married young at 22, he worked at Laurence Anderson Buddle (LAB) as an auditor where he first met Bruce Sheppard. After a couple of years Greg went overseas, as the heat from ‘the Bill’ was getting too much.
In London Greg worked for one of the world’s leading crime syndicates Arthur Anderson where he learnt a lot about bending the rules. After returning Greg worked for another crime family running New Zealand public companies where he learnt to take advantage of the then securities laws (or lack of them). After that experience Greg realised that if he was to remain out of jail, he needed to change his ways. No more taking easy options!
A recruitment company found it harder than usual to find people to fit with Bruce Sheppard (funny that) – Greg says it was because of his bad BO. He wore shorts, sandals, had a scruffy beard and looked like the cleaner and would wash infrequently. Someone typical accountants would be suspicious about. But because of Greg’s life in the underworld, none of that came as a surprise, so the interview was set.
Bruce would have the big ideas… external. And Greg would look after the team and processes… internal. Gone were the days when bodies would just disappear under a pile of concrete, but it was said some non-compliant staff were run over by a bus driven by a character who looked strangely like Greg! Both Bruce and Greg were both strong in putting their opinions across, which resulted in quite a few strange decisions over the 20 years of partnership.
“There’s the time we got scammed, this guy wanted investors to place sex packs in hotel rooms.”
“We invested but never heard from him again. But it did make for humorous jokes.”
“Another time we were dealing with Mark Lyons (a crazy property developer who got involved in drugs and gangs), and he didn’t like what we did, so he paid us in $1 coins. Back then you had to pay to deposit money, and he intended that to be our punishment. But Bruce did what he does with his negotiating skills, and we banked it without paying the extra.”
“This one time, Bruce took a blow-up doll to the Institute of Accountants AGM, I can’t remember why, I think it’s because he was just trying to be funny. He was insisting the doll was a person and could attend the meeting. Sometime later it became an ethics question as part of their course – whether it was bringing the Institute of Accountants into disrepute or not.”
“Bruce was a shareholder activist. The Brierleys AGM was scheduled for 11am on the 11th of November, which just happened to be Armistice Day (a peace agreement signed between Germany the Allies in WW1). No one else realised it except Bruce, being the intellectual freak that he is. So, we did a press release where we made an analogy of that (Brierleys was moving their head office overseas). I believe that was the beginning of the New Zealand Shareholders Association that Bruce setup.”
Fifteen years into his 20-year partnership, Greg helped set up outsourcing work to India. This was Greg’s first midlife crisis and it helped rekindle the old underworld contacts now residing in Asian cess pits.
Usually when you outsource, the worker takes the job from a system, does the work, and then puts it back in. We did it differently. We taught them how to use our systems and complete the whole job. Then we in New Zealand could swan off and spend our time on the beach.
Greg doesn’t think he left much of a legacy but is proud that together they grew it into a profitable cartel, the foundation of what is here today. Greg bought into Bruce’s philosophy of self-empowerment.
“I learnt a lot from Bruce, a very smart guy much like Al Capone.”
When Greg left Gilligan Sheppard he put more time into the outsourcing endeavour, Connect Accounting, servicing other accounting firms. It has increased 2000% since then. He is also a director and trustee of quite a few different companies and properties.
“As a business advisor, I was always telling people that you’ve got to do what makes you happy, and if you’re not happy you’ve got to do something about it.”
Now, Greg is developing his 25 acres of land with an orchard growing avocados and mushrooms, a yacht that he’s turning into accommodations, and a café because he does love his coffee. He’s collaborating with others in the area to do things differently – selling their produce online for example. He is evolving the property into a business that will sort his retirement, but still given him income to travel – his happy place.
Interviewed and written by Lisa Garrud, then sarcasm added by Greg himself.