The life that Bob Clarkson built

By Michele McPherson

Millionaire and former MP Bob Clarkson is one person who is not afraid to speak his mind ...

'Thiswill make you laugh," Bob Clarkson says.
I've already been laughing lots.
"I was sitting on the toilet in Matamata."
What?
"That's where your best thinking is done isn't it?"
Is it?
"And what are those sea shells that come up and go round and round and round like that?"
Like a sparkler, Bob's fingers are painting some fantasy shape.
I'm not getting it at all.
"Do it again," I instruct.
"It goes on an angle like that and then they've got ..."
Scallops?
"Yes."
"And I saw that and I thought 'gee that'd make a nice house'."
I'm laughing again.
Clarkson's scallop house is quite impressive though.
"You'd notice," Clarkson says pointing at the walls of his downstairs lounge. "Every room has two curve walls and two straight walls ... even the lift well has got two curve walls."
The Clarkson house in Pillans Point is, on the outside, white and pink.
Was that inspired by the scallop too?
"No, not really. I just wanted terracotta. It used to be three distinct colours and I wanted to paint them red, yellow and blue but the missus shot me down."
Clarkson likes to be different and is a bit rough around the edges for a millionaire.
He ploughed just shy of $15 million of his own hard-earned cash into the 17,500-seater Baypark Stadium, which he sold to Tauranga City Council in 2007.
He makes for an entertaining interview and, mere minutes after my note-taking starts, asks: "Why do girls hold pens like that?"
He starts laughing.
"I might have said that to you before but, anyway, it doesn't matter.'
As quick as that sentence came out, it's replaced by an entirely different one.


"You asked what makes me tick. It's challenges that make me tick," he says.
I'm still looking at the way I'm holding my pen.
One thing I'll give Clarkson, is the man tells it as he sees it.
It's 11am and he's taken a break from work to come home for our interview. His navy trousers are smudged with dust from operating a digger at the Tauriko Business Estate.
Clarkson doesn't need to work.
He's 72 and a wealthy man but loves working.
"I'm on holiday 50 weeks a year now and that's building buildings, because that's a holiday."
Does he enjoy going on real holidays?
"No."
Why not?
"It's hard work. I could be back here building a building."
Clarkson feels guilty though. Saying he should be taking wife Martha on more holidays. The two of them are going to "Irish land" (Ireland) later this year.
Since Clarkson signed off from Parliament in 2008, he's flown under the public radar, apart from the mention of his building projects in the Bay of Plenty Times.
Getting into Parliament was, and still is, one of Clarkson's greatest accomplishments.
When he put his name in the hat to challenge Winston Peters in 2004, Clarkson did it because Peters "needed a shake-up".
"He'd been here 17 years and, ah, I don't like to say it, but I was well known in town and to win an election you've got to be well known."
In fact, Clarkson claims Peters even helped him win. "He kept mentioning my name - it's a fact," Clarkson says.
"Every time he mentioned my name in the paper, TV or radio, that's equal to 300 votes. And he mentioned me thousands of times. That's what cost him the election."
Clarkson's decision not to run for Parliament again is something, in part, he regrets as he left with unfinished business such as a housing policy for first-home owners that he really wanted to get through Parliament.
Clarkson says his "stunning" policy is based around state houses, which are costing the country "millions". He wants to sell state houses to the tenants but keep the land and sell it to them in another 10 years' time with a fixed price at the start. "This gives the tenants time to build some assets up."
Clarkson said he went into Parliament to get this policy through but failed miserably.
On another subject, I ask Clarkson what he thinks of Simon Bridges?
"He's an ideal politician. He's a good speaker. He's good looking - girls think he's nice." His own comment cracks him up.
"And he's upright, doesn't swear when he speaks and all that. He's not as rough as me. And he'll be the politician in Tauranga for years to come. He won't do startling things," Clarkson continues. "But he'll continually get small things done like his dog thing he just did."
The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill?
"Yeah that. But if he does one thing every year, he's doing pretty good.
"Although," he says pausing. "I like more practical people that rattle the cage a bit but Simon will do well.
"He's quite clever you realise, he's had a very good education. So, good luck to him."
Did Clarkson think about running for mayor? He says yes but the current one, Stuart Crosby, is doing a good job.
"He might not be a yelling and screaming mayor. That's the trouble with me, I'd last five minutes cause I'd tell 'em what I thought of them. I wouldn't be any good because I couldn't tolerate having to try to convince another 10 people that my idea is the best idea."
So, he prefers being the boss?
"Yeah. Yeah, definitely," he says. "And I'll take responsibility for my actions. So if I make a mistake, it's my problem.
"I'm just not mayor material and I think Stuart is."
What does Clarkson think his public perception is? A big smile spreads across his face.
"Well, originally I think they loved me because I rattled the dags and rattled the cage down at the council. I've mellowed off a little bit since but I still get totally brassed off."
One thing he's brassed off about is a halt on his plans to develop a 220ha property on the outskirts of Tauranga, as well as 20ha of industrial land. He has big plans for this land.
Clarkson has 2.5km of river at Tauriko and has visions of waka taking tourists up and down it .
"We'd take them up to the old timber mill landing and we'd have a cafe thing up there so they could have a feed.
"Then they'd row back down the river and the Maoris could tell them the history of the river, which is quite exciting. When they got back down the bottom, I was going to build a big carving shed."
Clarkson says he was going to do all of this for free.
The project would have cost him $3 million. He needed consents to build and sell houses on his land in Tauriko, to get the money. Council won't grant the consents though.
"It absolutely brassed me off."
Clarkson spent $5 million on tractors, scoops and diggers, all brand new, ready to do this job.
How hard is it to make money in this property market?
Clarkson says he's past worrying about money. He doesn't work figures out anymore. Instead he makes judgments.
"I've got a lot of bloody buildings and rent coming in now, so I look at the end and see how well I did."
He declines to say how much he's worth but adds that while you've got to make some money, he's also interested in "achievement and pleasure".
I want to know how Clarkson - the rough diamond - became so successful.
He made it through two years of secondary school, before embarking on an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner.
"I was a person who liked working with my hands. Beware," he says, laughing.
"I did a trade for five years and, as soon as I passed my exams, I went back to night school to try and get my School Certificate."
Clarkson topped New Zealand in technical drawing, did well in maths, but failed English - and didn't obtain School Certificate.
"So I thought 'stuff this'. I finished my trade and went straight into business."
Clarkson worked himself silly - 118 hours a week. He was young and self-employed; fitting V8 motors in Mark 4 Zephyrs.
"It cost me my first marriage and that's a fact."
He recalls asking his first wife what she wanted for Christmas and she replied a divorce. "I wasn't thinking of anything so expensive," he told her.
Clarkson has two sisters and a brother but is the "only silly bugger still working."
Clarkson loves achieving. "I'll start skiting now," he warns me, adding that he played in the back-up team for the New Zealand hockey team that won a gold medal at the Olympics in 1976.
"They picked a second team as a back-up and we played the Olympic team before they went away. I played goalie.
"You don't achieve anything sitting on your bum."
What does he do in his spare time?
"Build buildings."
What does he do for fun?
"Draw a building for the next one. When I have a Sunday off, I go into my office and draw the next building. I'm not joking. I get growled at by the missus sometimes but however ..."
I love Clarkson's honesty.
I tell him he's a straight talker.
"Absolutely," he agrees.
Clarkson reckons he's had a pretty good life; excelling in business, hockey, stock cars and drag racing.
He and his team held the New Zealand dragster racing title for seven years before going to compete in Australia.
Is there anything a bit quirky people might not know about him?
"Kinky is the word," Clarkson says laughing.
"You gotta try and have a laugh at life. I've had some real tough times, financial and marriage, and various sorts of things ... you've gotta keep having fun.
"I absolutely love, I don't care how stressed I am in life, I love a laugh."
And, says Clarkson, he likes to keep giving. In 2002, he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to philanthropy.
Over the years, Clarkson has given to charity and taken on Tauranga's unemployed as labourers.
"You've got to do something in society to help them a little bit."
He's 73 this year. I ask him: "What's next?"
"I want to keep working. I don't plan to die."
"That's good," I say.
"Why should you plan to die? That's a good point isn't it? I might be here annoying the council another 30 years."
Peter Harford managed speedway at Baypark when it first opened and says Clarkson can be a little ruthless at times - "but most businessmen are" but he is a giver too.
"He does a lot for a hell of a lot of people you'd never know about."
And despite being wealthy, Clarkson is known to turn up to work with his lunch - a bread roll, slice of cheese and Marmite - in a bread bag.
"He believes in working to earn the money and he won't stop until he dies. He'll never stop. He'll most probably organise his own funeral and build his own coffin."
Friend John Friis says Clarkson is a "capitalist with a socialist conscience".
"With Bob Clarkson, a spade's a spade. He doesn't have any airs. Parliament was probably the last place he would have been comfortable, I'm quite convinced."
Friis also says Clarkson won't let you down.
"I've never met more of a straight shooter. He's one of the few people on the planet I would trust."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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