Greg Rathbun, Partner

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 depicts a fun evening as sharing a tin of baked beans and spending the night under a sheet. 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.

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, so 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, hard work and getting rid of bodies under concrete drives.

There was a greenhouse next door to the family home, and Greg used to help with their tomato grading and packing. With the money he earned, he bought his first car at the early age of 15, so he was independent at an early age.

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 trouble. He was good at accounting and maths, and he went to Auckland University and says he just cruised through. He was involved with rugby and rowing, but when it came to class work, he just did enough to pass making the most of other fun activities.

Whilst at Uni, he worked in roading – fixing up tar seals on roads and carparks; at the age of 21, he bought his first house due to tax breaks available with home ownership accounts and maxing out credit cards for the deposit. Having got his accounting degree and marrying 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. In London, he worked for one of the world’s leading Big 6, Arthur Anderson, where he learnt a lot about business. He then returned to NZ to start a family and needed a new job in Auckland.

A recruitment company found it harder than usual to find people who fit with Bruce Sheppard (funny that). Greg says it was because of his bad BO. He wore shorts and sandals, had a scruffy beard, and looked like the cleaner who would wash infrequently. He was someone typical accountants would be suspicious of. But because Greg’s already working with Bruce, 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. Both Bruce and Greg were strong in expressing their opinions, 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. You had to pay to deposit money back then, 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 brought the Institute of Accountants into disrepute.”

“Bruce was a shareholder activist. The Brierley’s AGM was scheduled for 11am on the 11th of November, which just happened to be Armistice Day (a peace agreement signed between Germany and 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 (Brierley’s was moving their head office overseas). I believe that was the beginning of the New Zealand Shareholders Association that Bruce set up.”

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 his love of new challenges and travel.

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 they grew it into a profitable cartel, the foundation of what is here today. Greg bought into Bruce’s philosophy of self-empowerment.

Now, Greg is developing his 25 acres of land with an orchard growing avocados, mushrooms, and a café – because he loves 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 give him income to travel – his happy place.

Sarcasm added by Greg himself.