Makeover: 20 Years of Top 100. (Cover Story)

By Jayne, Vicki | New Zealand Management, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Makeover: 20 Years of Top 100. (Cover Story)


Jayne, Vicki, New Zealand Management


The face of New Zealand enterprise has been nipped, tucked, trimmed and almost totally transformed in the 20 years since Management magazine first compiled a list of New Zealand's top 100 companies in June 1982. Back then the country's business environment was looking pretty grim.

Worldwide recession following off-price shocks had hit our commodity-dependent economy hard; "think big" projects were gobbling up offshore borrowings; the National government had implemented a wage/price freeze; and a report from the European Management Forum had just ranked us 22nd out of 22 for our "industrial efficiency".

Management minds were being exercised by the perils or profits of pending Closer Economic Relations (CER) with Australia, quality circles, the complexities Of installing small (versus mainframe) computers, and (apparently) the stylistic effects of facial hair.

Economically speaking, our fortunes were in the hands a chubby and none-too-cheerful little man who believed in the command-and-control approach to leadership.

The next few years were, however, to bring major upheavals as a reformist Labour government deregulated the economy, floated the dollar, and corporatised government enterprise. Previously protected areas of the economy such as farming and manufacturing were suddenly exposed to the chill winds of international competition.

These changes impacted greatly on the list of New Zealand's top-earning enterprises. Well-known names like Dalgety's, Nathan, NZ Forest Products, UEB Industries, Alex Harvey, Lion Breweries and Feltex, for instance, either formed new compound identities (Lion Nathan, Carter Holt Harvey) or fell into the black hole of merger or acquisition.

Giants of the pastoral and manufacturing era were challenged by newcomers from the investment and service sectors.

In 1987, even Fletcher Challenge was knocked off its traditional top perch by investment company Brierley (BIL) which that year had its fingers deep in sizeable corporate pies including Magnum (which had previously swallowed DB), Skellerup NZ News, Welgas, and Rainbow Corp, spawning ground of emerging multi-millionaire Craig Heatley. Financial deregulation allied with a property boom brought a bundle of other "corps" onto the list--including Chase Corp, Equiticorp, Judge Corp and Richmond Development Corp

Things looked a little different in the 1988m listings. Such was the fallout of "the stockmarket crash" that the propose top 250 was reduced to just 203 that were able to meet revenue requirements. Fletcher Challenge showed the benefits of a rise in global commodity markets and reclaimed its top spot after BIL profits slipped 23 percent.

Renouf Corp hung in there despite its recorded $40 million loss. So did Kupe Group with a $155 million loss and Railways Corp with $148 million. And, Ron Brierley aside, facial hair seemed to be falling from fashion. That year also brought a crop of new "corps" onto the listing--the state-owned variety. These included Telecom Corp, Electricity Corp, NZ Railways Corp, NZ Forestry Corp, and Landcorp as well as Postbank and NZ Post

This was the start of the "lean, mean" years and two trends were string to emerge amongst the top players-a greater degree of foreign ownership and a smaller proportion of local workforce employment.

An analysis of Management's top 100 data shows the overseas-owned percentage of our top earners leapt by 12 percent (to 37 percent) between 1989 and 1990. Although one factor skewing figures was the inclusion that year of financial companies which were then moved onto a separate list in 1992, that growth trend continue throughout the late 1990s.

In contrast in the first eight years (1982-89) during which overseas ownership hovered around the 25 percent mark, the proportion by 2001 had reached 41 percent. Included in that figure are biggies such as Carter Holt Harvey, Telecom Watties, Dominion Breweries and Progressive Enterprises-not to mention all the major banks. …

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