BOOK EXTRACT: Serious Fun - The Life and Times of Alan Gibbs, Chapter 4
BOOK EXTRACT Serious Fun - The Life and Times of Alan Gibbs, by Paul Goldsmith (Random House; Kindle edition here)
Chapter 4: The young entrepreneur and the first New Zealand car, 1965–1970
Alan, Jenny and their two daughters reached New Zealand on 20 August 1965, but it wasn’t the joyous homecoming they would have liked. Elsie Gibbs was losing her five-year battle with cancer. She died on 22 November having endured much pain, depriving the now 26-year-old Alan Gibbs of his beloved mother. Mourners packed out Wellington’s Anglican cathedral to pay tribute to her life of service, while her youngest son, who was already prone to dwelling intensely on the purpose of life, was left struggling to make sense of it all.
Gibbs rented a flat for his family on Bolton Street, above The Terrace and close to Parliament and to Victoria University, where Jenny was reappointed part-time to the history department for the 1966 academic year. In order to teach, Jenny took the fairly radical step of having someone come in two mornings a week to look after the girls; then, when she was marking, she’d take Amanda and Debbi over the road to the cemetery and pop them inside one of the large grave sites with a fence around it, each with a bucket and spade.
Alan, meantime, needed only to wander down the hill each morning to the Molesworth Street office of the Prime Minister’s Department. His head was full of his car project, but it made good sense to stay awhile in one of the leading departments of state to learn more about how New Zealand’s tightly controlled economy worked. In fact, it was a small department of about eight people. He saw little of the prime minister and anyway his father’s relationship with Holyoake had cooled in the early 1960s because of differences over the financial arrangements at Kinloch.
A model draped across the bonnet of the Nova at a promotional photo shoot (click any photo to enlarge).
As a young economist in the Prime Minister’s Department, Alan gained a good opportunity to observe the controlled economy in action when he represented the department on an interdepartmental officials’ committee. The committee drew up the annual import-licensing schedule. In many respects this was the most important document in the life of the regulated economy: how many cars could come in this year, with what restrictions; how many radios; how many pairs of shorts. The ramifications for the economy and for importers in particular were huge.
Gibbs and representatives from the Department of Industries and Commerce, Treasury, Customs and other departments, six in all, sat down and went through every item on the list and argued over whether anything should be changed. The process opened his eyes to the real power structures in the New Zealand economy:
The import licences were extremely political. Some import licences were worth millions to these guys who owned them.
There were such huge vested interests involved that the system became rigid. In theory, our eight-man committee was supposed to work out whether, given the state of our foreign exchange reserves, we could allow more imports, and if so whether we should grant more licences, say, for children’s shoes or for tins of sardines.
It was impossible to make such judgments, and because the politicians had the hell beaten out of them if they took anything away from an existing importer, the tendency was for everyone on the schedule to get the same as the year before, plus or minus a set percentage to reflect balance of payments pressures.
Everything was so dug in that import licences had become property rights. Because the incumbents had a guaranteed place in the market, there was no genuine competition.
The New Zealand economy had become feudal; you were born with licences or you were a serf. The lucky families with lucrative licences made millions; the rest of us paid crazy prices for their products.
It was a corrupting system in the sense that importers naturally spent an awful lot of time being nice to civil servants and politicians, giving them holidays, tickets to the theatre and lunches, although I never saw any evidence of corruption involving wads of cash.
Jenny and Alan at a restaurant in 1965.
Sitting around the committee table, Gibbs could see that the system was deeply flawed.
The superficial explanation for the web of controls was the need to maintain New Zealand’s foreign exchange, so that the money received from exports matched the money spent on imports.
But Gibbs now struggled to see any rational basis for it. The system reflected a pervasive, almost instinctive belief that capitalism had failed and that the government had to manage the economy. On the inside, there was no hiding the charade it had become; how privilege was further entrenched each year at the expense of consumers and the vibrancy of the economy as a whole.
Reading the Financial Times in London for a couple of years, Gibbs had seen debates globally about the dangers of quantitative import controls (that is, controls on the numbers and value of products that could be imported) and how they were increasingly being challenged; but for the time being at least, he knew that if he was going to do business in New Zealand, he was going to have to make the local system, with all its quirks and nuances, work for him.
Surprisingly perhaps, given that he’d seen plenty of evidence of the immense power of the incumbents in the car industry in New Zealand, Gibbs remained determined to continue with his grand plan to build a new car. The car project remained the most exciting venture he’d found. There was no comparison with the dreary prospect of the foreign affairs cocktail circuit and the bureaucratic structure of government departments. Nevertheless, it still required a big decision to give up a promising position at the heart of the civil service for an ambitious, some would say reckless, scheme to break into the New Zealand car-manufacturing cartel. Forever restless, Gibbs took the plunge in the autumn of 1966, less than a year after his return from London. His plan was to go north to Auckland where his brother Ian had a small engineering firm, Anziel Ltd. Ian had launched his company in the late 1950s as an agency business servicing the pulp and paper industry. Alan would work for Ian at Anziel while together the brothers would advance the car project with Reliant Motor Co. Ian was Alan’s boyhood hero; together the Gibbs brothers would take on the world.
These days Alan Gibbs keeps his Anziel Nova prototype at The Farm, in gleaming condition.
Ian was happy to accommodate his younger brother’s dreams; Jenny went along with it, although it meant she’d be left on her own with the girls in Wellington for the rest of the year as she served out notice at the university. Gibbs’ father, however, was unhappy. He’d been thrilled at the thought of Alan being a diplomat and he made it very clear to him that it was reckless and foolish for a young father of two to ditch his promising career in favour of business, something which nobody much respected in New Zealand.
The reality is, however, that TN Gibbs had sent mixed messages over a longer period. Alan didn’t receive any financial assets from his father, but he had gained something more valuable. As he puts it, ‘I gained the benefit of seeing Dad being successful in business. He didn’t talk about it much, but watching him gave me the feel for it, it gave me the confidence that business wasn’t a great mystery, but rather something I could master.’
Those who had dealt with Theo in the 1950s described him as a businessman to the core, who not surprisingly bred three entrepreneurial sons. Phil Hills, a young manager at Hurley Bendon Ltd, an Auckland company which TN Gibbs advised, remembered Theo as a powerful, though largely silent, force when he visited the factory: ‘When he blinked, he did so very slowly as if to give the impression, “I’m way ahead of you”.’2 At Alan and Jenny’s wedding, Raj Roberts remembers seeing Ian trying to sell someone some fertiliser and Colin telling someone about the excellent display of televisions at Hazelwoods.3 Theo had bred an independent streak in his boys, and now had to face the fact that his youngest son, brimful of charm and confidence, was shaping up to be the most entrepreneurial of all. Undeterred by his father’s discouragement, Alan left his post in the Prime Minister’s Department and moved into the YMCA in Auckland, around the corner from the Anziel office.
The first page of the Anziel group’s brochure for the Anziel Nova. (Click any photo to enlarge.)
There was, of course, no way that the Gibbs brothers could simply decide to build their cars in New Zealand and have a go. First they needed permission from the government, in the form of a licence, to import the assembly plant and the parts and materials with which they hoped to build the cars. They had to navigate the murky world of import licensing. The car market in New Zealand was a strange beast. New Zealanders had taken to cars with gusto and, prior to the war, had been second only to the Americans in the numbers of cars they had purchased per person.4 Since the war, demand had remained high, but government restrictions on imports had created a permanent shortage, hence the long waiting lists for new cars, the premium paid for good second-hand cars and the opportunity Gibbs had seen to make some money.
Meantime, since almost immediately after the first Model Ts were imported in 1910, some elements of local assembly had been attempted. Over the years, governments had encouraged local work by adding taxes to cars imported ‘completely built up’ (CBU). By contrast, cars that were ‘completely knocked down’ (CKD), that is, imported in pieces and assembled locally, attracted less duty. General Motors, Ford and Todd Motor Industries established relatively large-scale (in New Zealand terms) assembly plants in Petone in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Morris and Austin assembly plants sprang up in Auckland. Rules governing tariffs and import licences became more complicated each year after the war as successive governments sought to tilt the playing field ever more towards local assembly and the manufacture of as many parts as possible.
By the early 1960s a powerful group of incumbents was well entrenched. The Todds assembled Chryslers and Hillmans; the Turner family assembled VWs and Peugeots; the Seabrooks and their colleagues assembled Austins at Petone. The industry was bedevilled by small-scale, high-cost factories; as many as 30 models were assembled locally, sometimes with a run as small as 300 cars a year. But so long as licences were tightly controlled and demand outstripped supply, the dominant players were happy. Naturally they fought amongst themselves, but they could unite to resist new arrivals wanting to muscle in. Gibbs’ plan to build a New Zealand car would be, therefore, as much a political exercise as it was an engineering, manufacturing and marketing challenge.
Nevertheless, the 26-year-old thought he was equipped to handle the task, although he sensibly arranged for Ian to front the project. Twelve years older, with an established entrepreneurial and engineering track record, Ian had more credibility. After further talks with Reliant, the Gibbs brothers made their initial pitch with a letter to Jack Marshall, the Minister of Industries and Commerce, on 29 August 1966.5 Their object was to obtain Marshall’s approval of licences to build 3000 cars a year, starting production in mid-1968. Gibbs concluded early on that the only way to crack the import-licence monopoly was to offer more New Zealand content. They could make the fibreglass bodies and the steel chassis in New Zealand, which would generate 20 per cent more local content than any other car then assembled in New Zealand. That was sufficient for them to make the bold claim that they were building ‘the first New Zealand car’.6 Gibbs was sure the incumbents would find it hard to bat away such a pioneering venture. Having warmed Marshall up with a letter, they hoped to meet him to discuss it further.
Three weeks passed with no reply from Marshall. In retrospect, the delay wasn’t surprising, but they thought they had an earth-shattering proposal and were impatient. They fired off another note on 20 September, telling Marshall that all they needed during the 1966/67 licensing period was the allocation of a licence to import a prototype of the vehicle, costing £750 ($25,000 in today’s terms).7 Marshall’s reply to their earlier letter arrived the following day and poured cold water all over their hopes and dreams.
There was, Marshall said, ‘no possibility of any provision being made at the present time for overseas funds for a project of this kind . . . I cannot offer you any encouragement to proceed with your proposition at this time’.8 In essence, their timing was bad. Marshall cited a serious shortage of overseas exchange; export prices for primary produce were falling. To cut spending on imports, the government had trimmed back the licences available for existing motor vehicle assemblers. With existing assemblers squeezed, Marshall argued that ‘another new proposal could not be entertained’.
It was a blow, but Gibbs didn’t despair yet. They’d also written to Holyoake, who’d been overseas early in September. He’d discussed the project with Marshall and asked his deputy to be ‘kept in touch with developments’.9 Eventually Marshall relented and the brothers secured a meeting with him, but their charm and enthusiasm weren’t sufficient. Writing a month later, Marshall offered only a flicker of hope that he and Customs Minister Norm Shelton might consider some licences for the Anziel project further down the line if the balance of payments situation improved, allowing for a general relaxation of import controls. But there was no assurance.10
Not taking the hint, the Gibbs kept pushing. Ian explained he was going to the UK to visit the Reliant plant and they really needed their prototype to make progress. Marshall finally yielded at the end of November, allowing them to spend £750 on their prototype, but stressing that this munificence did not imply that approval had been given for the broader project.11 Such was the extent of the state’s powers in New Zealand that the young entrepreneur had had to crawl on hand and knee to get this far.
Showing the high levels of optimism typically associated with entrepreneurs, Alan felt that they were making good progress by the end of 1966. Jenny arrived with the girls before Christmas 1966 and they began looking around Auckland to buy their first home. Not having enough money for the wealthier suburbs, they turned to the city fringe where a buyer ‘got more bangs for his bucks’. So they spent £8000 (around $270,000 in today’s terms) on a simple three-bedroom contemporary house amongst trees on Scenic Drive, several miles past Titirangi village. Jenny, having to establish herself in a new town, stayed at home and poured her energies into the local Playcentre.
Knowing that the car project would take months, possibly years, to come to fruition, Gibbs kept busy on other things to pay the bills. By the time Alan joined Anziel, Ian was employing six or seven people. Leaving the car project to one side, Alan’s job at Anziel was to look for a manufacturing business to buy, in order to grow the business. There was an expectation down the line that he would buy into this new business.
Within a few months Alan found a small metal-pressing business in South Auckland, Holmes Manufacturing Ltd. It was a family affair owned by a tool maker who was keen to devote more time to his magnificent train set. The company employed around 12 people: two tool makers, the most highly skilled men of the trade, who made the dies from which the metal would be stamped, and 10 press operators. They made components for Dominion Electric, a company that assembled electronic goods under protection from international competition by import licences. Holmes Manufacturing produced metal chassis for radios and television sets. They also made stainless steel conveyor chains for freezing works and film reels and cans for the government film department. One of their highest volume products was a peach pitting spoon; basically a bent knife. ‘It was an elementary little business,’ Gibbs recalls, but he was intent on turning it into something bigger.
In the winter of 1967, the Anziel Nova prototype arrived in Auckland and the Gibbs meticulously planned a public launch of the great New Zealand car, hoping to whip up a groundswell of public enthusiasm that would pile pressure on Marshall and the government to grant the licences they needed.
Alan arranged to bring Sir Lawrence Hartnett, the father of the Australian car industry, to New Zealand to lend weight to their press conferences and ministerial visits. Hartnett had overseen the birth and development of the Holden since the 1930s and was a respected figure internationally. With Hartnett flying in on Sunday, 17 September for the announcement, they planned maximum publicity. ‘Top secret plans for New Zealand’s own car’ were leaked to the Sunday News to build up excitement, then coverage of the Sunday afternoon press conference generated front-page or page-three news all around the country the following day. Initially, they talked simply of a ‘90 mph family car’. Ian Gibbs fronted, while Lawrence Hartnett said he was at a loss to explain the proposal’s cool reception from Norm Shelton, the Customs Minister.15
On day three they released the car’s name, the Nova, and the estimated price, $2400 (around $37,000 in today’s terms). This led to another round of stories. Then on day five they released photos of the prototype, sweeping the papers for a third time. On day 10 they took the car to show it to Jack Marshall, leading to another round of photos of the minister with the car. There were features on the Gibbs family and useful stories on Hartnett, who predicted that the project would be panned by cynics who would say it couldn’t be done, just as they had with the Holden: ‘But we did it in that case, and they will do it here.’16 New Zealand, as Gibbs puts it, was ‘bloody interested’ in the first New Zealand car.
Worryingly, however, Shelton and Marshall were consistently lukewarm about the project in every pronouncement, saying there would definitely be no licence for them this year.17 Spoiling stories quickly appeared, with commentators saying that the cars would be all British and the same as the Anadol, the Reliant model being produced in Turkey. Headlines shouting ‘Setback for NZ Car Plans’ spread through the papers, which reported that Marshall was saying more detailed information was needed to substantiate Anziel’s claims.
‘More sinister, perhaps,’ the New Zealand Herald wrote, ‘were the reports towards the end of the week that the major concerns in the car assembly industry were bringing pressure to bear to kill the project off.’18 Alan Gibbs snatched at this bone on offer to position himself as David taking on Goliath. Under a large headline, ‘Big Boys “Trying to Kill” Nova Car’, he claimed, ‘We are treading on the big boys’ corns and they are trying everything to kill our project at birth.’19
Most of the local assemblers were clever enough to keep quiet, although Dominion Motors, assemblers of Morris and Austin vehicles in Auckland, criticised the Gibbs scheme as ‘ill-timed’. When an article appeared in the Auckland Star arguing that the production of ‘our own car would be a costly privilege for New Zealand’, Alan Gibbs quickly dispatched a letter noting that the article’s author, MJ Atkinson, was an executive of a firm which assembled foreign cars in New Zealand, a point that the article hadn’t acknowledged: ‘We acknowledge,’ he wrote, ‘that the opposition of vested interests is perfectly legitimate but we feel that the public should be able to recognise it for what it is.’20 People were learning that Gibbs could fight back.
While debate raged in the papers and Gibbs squeezed more publicity by granting selected writers a test drive — leading in the Auckland Star to a half-page story entitled ‘We’ve Driven the Nova . . . And it’s a Winner’21 — the real battle lay in Wellington. The Gibbs stressed the high New Zealand content in letters to ministers, knowing it was in line with stated policy. Under pressure in the House, Marshall stated that the government had not rejected the Nova, but reaffirmed that the basic materials would have no licence that year (to June 1968).22 The matter was left with the Gibbs needing to submit detailed costings to departmental officials in the hope they might gain approval for the following year. Alan Gibbs dealt with JP Lewin, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Industries and Commerce, a former member of the Communist Party, former chair of the PSA, the public sector union, and a firm adherent of Rosenberg’s view of the world. Gibbs’ detailed plans were sent to Lewin before Christmas 1967, with copies to Holyoake, Marshall and Shelton in the New Year. Ian Gibbs told the ministers that they’d ‘put a lot of work and money into this project’ and were looking for ‘serious attention’ from the department.23
The first ominous sign they were being led up the garden path came on 6 February 1968, when the Gibbs brothers met with Lewin and his deputy to discuss their detailed proposals, only to be told the matter could now be taken no further by the department until additional instructions were received from Marshall. They met the minister a fortnight later and were told there would no licence for the 1968/69 year either. Lewin and Marshall, though they didn’t express it quite this way to the Gibbs, based their decision on the policy articulated internally by Customs Minister Shelton: ‘that for 1968/69 no additional foreign exchange could be made available to support “incentive” licences to industry and that he was not in favour of disturbing the basic entitlements of the present licence holders for 1968/69’.24 Lewin was dismissive of the Gibbs’ claims in his report to Marshall. Gibbs was pouring his heart and soul into producing reports requested by the minister and yet he didn’t stand a chance because neither the bureaucrats nor ministers wanted a disturbance in the status quo.
Not having the heart to kill the Gibbs’ scheme stone dead, apparently, Marshall suggested they might develop a new policy, which freed car parts from import duties if a higher level of domestic content was achieved. In March 1968 Alan Gibbs came back with comments and further suggestions soon after, but then the lines went dead for several more months. In desperation Ian Gibbs enlisted Holyoake to fight for their cause; the prime minister had earlier promised any help he could ‘justifiably’ give. In the end, Holyoake wrote three times to Marshall, in April, June and August 1968, requesting that he give the Gibbs an urgent reply. Marshall finally replied in August, merely to say that he was awaiting a departmental report.25 Gibbs appeared fresh-faced and optimistic in a television documentary on the New Zealand car industry, saying that the Nova had been designed specifically to be manufactured economically at low volumes, that it ‘would make a terrific impact’, but it didn’t look as if he’d get an opportunity to prove his theory.26
With hindsight Gibbs sees it was a good education for a young man about politics and government, but at the time it was maddening:
We’d go to Jack Lewin, the leftie head of import licences, to present our ideas. He’d say, ‘We have to look into this, get a committee, researchers; it will take three months, then we’ll come back to you.’ Three months later, you’d write and be told it would be another month. So we write to the minister saying, ‘What’s going on?’ He’d write to Lewin, who’d say, ‘We had no intention of giving them an answer in three months.’
They just stonewalled.
To the politicians we were just a nuisance. They had so many difficulties. The existing licence-holders weren’t keen to see licences go to anyone new. There were never enough to go round. Being Minister of Industry and Commerce was a terrible job: everyone pretended to love you but you were disappointing people all the time.
For us it was all about trying to put pressure on the politicians to let us join the licensing racket. I tried to involve Holyoake, but eventually realised he was just cunning. I made arguments about the good of mankind and they tried to keep as many people happy as they could. In the end we were nothing, a tiny business in Auckland, but we were an embarrassment — as I said we could do things that the others couldn’t do. Shelton rang up one day, after another dose of our pressure, and said, ‘Look, Alan, what can I do to get you guys off my back? I could give you a licence for 300.’ That was just silly; I told him we needed a run of at least 2000 to make it viable. ‘You’re impossible,’ he groaned. ‘If I gave you that they wouldn’t let me open another new car factory in New Zealand; they’d run me out of town.’
After another great effort Gibbs managed to get himself before Marshall again in September 1968 and was offered a licence to import 600 units. There was some brave talk in the media of going into production mid-1969, but really it was hopeless.27 They had to hunker down for another year and hope for better things in the next round.
Everyday business at Anziel Manufacturing, meantime, offered little respite from the frustrations of import licensing. Ian left this area of the business to Alan and, searching for growth, he decided to extend their range into office equipment. But once again, there was no way that he could simply make filing cabinets and sell them. Everything was licensed. Large established firms had the licences to import steel for the particular shape that was needed and for the locks for the cabinet. ‘The whole economy was cartelised,’ he says. ‘Everyone had a monopoly because nobody could get an import licence for something if someone else already made it.’ Since all the worthwhile products in the office equipment range had been taken, Gibbs found himself chewing around the fringes. Anziel Manufacturing did manage to make a locally designed ‘in and out’ tray, a box for women’s recipe cards and a calendar pad with wooden ends.
Gibbs decided that the only way to get anywhere was to establish his own monopoly, and hopefully for something more significant than an ‘in and out’ tray. Eventually he discovered an Australian firm, Celco, that manufactured stapling machines and gained permission to make them in New Zealand. It was a model of inefficiency. Celco would send its very expensive tools across the Tasman for six weeks once a year and Gibbs’ firm would make about 6000 stapling machines, which is what they thought the local market would bear. Compared with staplers bought directly from someone in a large market overseas who made millions of them a year, Gibbs’ locally produced staplers were expensive, especially when the costs of carting the machinery back and forth for a short session and then stocking the staplers for the rest of year were factored in.
But once he secured the import licence, no one could compete with him. Looking back, his main achievement was simply to double the price of stapling machines for local consumers the day Anziel Manufacturing went into the business.
So Gibbs plugged away, peddling expensive staplers, advancing the progress of humanity not a bit. By late 1969 their little firm had 30 staff and dozens of small manufacturing lines, trying to keep everyone employed. Gibbs kept fighting for additional import licences, finding tools, going to stationery conferences, knocking on the doors of stationery shops and, most important of all, learning about the principles of business in a highly regulated economy. The biggest struggle each week was to find enough cash, largely by rounding up debtors, to pay the wages on Thursday. It wasn’t long before he concluded that he was in a mug’s game:
Basically I could see it was only ever going to be extremely frustrating. There was no way to get into scale manufacturing because of the controlled system. Because of the inefficiency of it, we never made cash; the cash was all tied up in stock. We could make a year’s requirements in six weeks but had to hold stock to supply the market for a year. There was no real free cash coming out of the business. And there was no real satisfaction since our customers were paying too much for our products because of the monopolistic system.
To make matters worse, Ian was struggling with his health and losing interest in the business. Yacht racing was his primary passion.
Alan responded with a final big push on the Anziel Nova project at the end of 1969. He was trying to work out how they could start production with the 600 units allowed by their licence and to interest potential financiers to fund them. Relations with the government, however, proved intractable. In November 1969 they had to write to the Reserve Bank for approval to pay Reliant Motors a fee for technical assistance. This was refused by the Reserve Bank, on the recommendation of Lewin’s Industries and Commerce Department. The officials’ argument had changed; now they said there were too many car assemblers in New Zealand, and what the country needed was rationalisation of the existing industry, not more assembly plants for new models.28
For Alan, the Reserve Bank’s decision was just another hurdle to be overcome; in December he had representatives from Reliant visit New Zealand hoping to reach an agreement on the first run. He was talking up prospects in the press, saying they would be in production by July 1970 once approvals were received from government.29 But he recalls that things were getting stressful:
It was very tough on me in my late twenties, running a political campaign. We had absolutely no money and I had several balls in the air, trying to keep my brother involved sufficiently. I hated the publicity, but in order to get the licence, I had to create PR; and to generate the coverage, I had to overstate my case, which made me feel uneasy. As a result of what they printed in the papers, people treated me as if I was just about to make cars, even though I knew I was still a million miles away from it.
Over the summer Gibbs toiled away. The recently elected Labour MP Roger Douglas joined a group of MPs, led by their spokesman on Industries and Commerce, Warren Freer, to visit Gibbs’ house at Titirangi to see the Nova prototype. It was Douglas’ first encounter with Alan Gibbs, whom he thought very impressive. But Gibbs’ hopes and dreams were dealt their final savage blow in March 1970, ironically by a liberalisation of the industry. The new Customs Minister, Lance Adams-Schneider, announced a more permissive regime for ‘completely built up’ car imports, without any special incentive for local content. Expensively produced local cars that depended on licences looked like they might be on the way out.
This was all too much. In mid-March 1970, Gibbs announced publicly that it was ‘all over for the Nova’; his dream was shattered, he’d had ‘a proverbial gutsful’ and was packing up to move to Sydney.30 Having turned 30 and devoted five years, on and off, to the idea of the Nova, Gibbs had nothing to show for it other than the acquisition of a hatred for departmental officials, deep cynicism about politicians, and an aversion to New Zealand’s system of import licences that protected businesses from competition. Combined with his experiences with the staplers at Anziel Manufacturing, it was a painful lesson in the perils of trying to manufacture in a capricious economy where bureaucrats and politicians ruled the roost.
Meantime, the 1960s had wrought great changes on the Gibbs family, which had been so secure and stable during Alan’s university days. His beloved mother had gone, and Ian had lost interest; Theo had remarried, but was suffering from the early stages of the Parkinson’s disease that would eventually take him, and he was also starting to worry about inflation eating into his savings. Responsibility came thick and fast for Alan and Jenny. Their third daughter, Emma, had been born in 1967. And having produced three girls, they resolved to adopt a son. Thane, a 12-month-old boy, joined the family in late 1969.
There was pressure, but Jenny observed no loss of confidence in her husband. Since ‘the pricks’ had made manufacturing in New Zealand too hard, he’d try something else. Finance would be the new field of opportunity, and Sydney was the place.
Extracted from Serious Fun - The Life and Times of Alan Gibbs, by Paul Goldsmith (Random House; Kindle edition here)