MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
Random House, $39.99
When I was a young man, New Zealand couldn't muster a single millionaire. Now all it takes is owning a house in Ponsonby. Currently, we can boast several billionaires. None seem to enjoy the limelight more than Owen Glenn who has become our most high profile philanthropist.
Publicity has largely focused on his $7.5 million donation to the University of Auckland Business School which earned Glenn an honorary doctorate. Not bad for a boy from Mt Roskill who never enjoyed the privilege of a higher education. Less known is his providing of education benefits for rescuing exploited children in Kalimpong, India (where Glenn was originally born) through the Glenn Family Foundation.
Initially, Glenn worked in a bank, then he went to England in search of adventure, worked a number of low rent jobs, did time for TEAL but found his true calling with air freight forwarding. Since I am not a business person I found it hard to follow many of his short snappy jump cuts to success. Sometimes he just says opportunities arose so he took them. No details. Or casually says he wound up with seven companies and 1800 employees.
It was only when the swiftly moving account gave clear specific details of undercutting the opposition that his formula for success became clearer. His company charged $20 a kilo whereas his rivals charged US $50 a kilo. They gained business hand over foot. "My Initiative!" Glenn understandably crows. At one stage, his business made Chinese economic growth looked retarded--they were expanding at 20-25 per cent per year. Glenn, at least on his own account, comes across as a guy who continually looks for a way to undercut prices, expand or roll with the punches.
On the personal side, no details are given about why two marriages broke up. Wife Number One got the house and children and Wife Number Two walked out of the marriage. It seems that Glenn was as unlucky with marriage as he was lucky in business. Mind you, the business success comes across as keen enterprise rather than luck.
Glenn is emotionally honest--on one occasion he admits to punching someone. A combination of his second wife walking out and the might of the United States Federal Maritime Commission reduced him to tears. On proving the severity of his divorce situation, the USFMA took a more lenient approach. So bureaucrats do have hearts!
If you think Glenn was intimidated by doing a course at the Harvard University you would be wrong. A combination of speed reading, up front attitude and cheeky humour saw him pass through with flying colours.His recent enormous grant of $80 million dollars to help the under privileged of Otara has had a hugely beneficial effect in several ways, among them neighbourhood watch schemes, murals and music.
As good business practice, Glenn advocates passion for the job, a good work ethic, integrity (no bribes taken or offered!) and generous in success while being gracious in defeat. All business folk, please take note!
It's been bouquets so far, now for some brick bats. Glenn is too ready to praise himself and at times the text tends toward one long self-endorsement, if not admiration. Also the book reads as though it has been dictated and typed up rather than properly edited--cliches and repetitions abound. Glenn's ace in the hole, so to speak, is several glowing testimonials affixed as an index. Yet in general, I believe Glenn is the beneficent force that the book affirms him to be. Compare him with Indian or Russian billionaires, and I know who I'd prefer. Throw in an endorsement from the much liked Mad Butcher and Winston Peters coming off second best, and Glenn looks good for more smooth sailing. Bon Voyage!