Sir Ron Trotter loses battle with cancer

Sir Ron Trotter has lost his battle with cancer, dying overnight in Wellington at the age 82.Sir Ron is survived by his wife Lady Margaret and his children, including son Bill, who is chairman of investment bank First NZ Capital. His funeral is likely to be held early next week.Of the many anecdotes that will be told following his death, one was exclusive to the National Business Review and was made public only in recent years.

Sir Ron Trotter has lost his battle with cancer, dying overnight in Wellington at the age 82.

Sir Ron is survived by his wife Lady Margaret and his children, including son Bill, who is chairman of investment bank First NZ Capital. His funeral is likely to be held early next week.

Of the many anecdotes that will be told following his death, one was exclusive to the National Business Review and was made public only in recent years.

It was how, in 1972, an arrogant English share raider had laughed in the face of the then finance minister, Rob Muldoon, and described the then Mr Trotter as lacking the capacity to understand the reasons for spoiling a planned merger between NMA (National Mortgage & Agency) and Wright Stephenson.

The two companies were planning to merge and Mr Trotter, the Wrightson CEO, and Harry Huse, his equivalent at NMA, had taken the proposed merger to the stage of announcing a scheme for shareholders' consideration.

UK corporate predator Vavasour had raided NMA and prepared a takeover. Vavasour wanted access to NMA's guaranteed cashflow from its farmer clients and planned to divert rural servicing funds to financial products.

Mr Muldoon (later Sir Robert) said he could not allow such diversion of farming finance. He threatened to use executive regulatory powers to cancel share transfers, including those conducted on the stock exchange.

Vavasour retreated after a few tense weeks and the merger later received overwhelming shareholder approval.

As NBR later observed, Vavasour was out of its depth dealing with top New Zealand businessmen and had wildly under-estimated all involved.

The merger was the first of many, leading to the eventual three-way merger of Wrightson, Fletcher Holdings and Tasman Pulp & Paper into Fletcher Challenge with Sir Ron as its chief executive and later chairman, retiring in 1995.

Sir Ron was born in Hawera on October 9, 1927, was educated at Wanganui Collegiate and Victoria University College and Lincoln College (now Lincoln University).

He was a founder and main driving force in the Business Roundtable from its formation in 1985, at the height of the economic reforms of which he was a leading champion.

Last year, Sir Ron Trotter had to miss his annual lecture, established by the Roundtable in 1995, for the first time due to his ill health.

His many director- and chairmanships also included then state-owned Telecom and Air New Zealand as well as ANZ Banking Group and Toyota NZ.

Prime Minister John Key noted with sadness the death saying "Ron’s contribution to business in New Zealand was significant. His achievements, including being founding chairman of the Business Roundtable, will leave a lasting legacy.

“His knighthood for services to business in 1985 was a well-deserved recognition of the substantial difference Sir Ron made to business in New Zealand.

“His vision, determination and leadership were legendary. It was with much sadness that I heard of his death this afternoon and I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to Lady Margaret and his family.”

In a statement, Fletcher Building expressed sadness at the news of Sir Ron's death.

Sir Ron was involved with Fletcher Challenge as chief executive and chairman from 1980 to 1995. Despite retiring 15 years ago, there are still many current Fletcher Building employees that worked for Sir Ron and recall the significant contribution he made to the company.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly has paid tribute to Sir Ronald’s leadership of Fletcher Challenge, Toyota, and his long contribution to the governance of public sector organisations.

“Sir Ron played a pivotal part in the modernisation of New Zealand’s economic direction during the 1980s and after, and all of us as New Zealanders have benefited from that leadership. He will be sadly missed by the business community,” Mr O’Reilly said.

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