A man with the gift of the gab

By Jane Phare

A high-profile motivational speaker has been extradited to Australia to face $1.5 million worth of fraud charges, leaving behind him a string of bad debts in New Zealand. Jane Phare looks at how fast-talking sales expert Christopher Koch duped Kiwi business associates into handing over their money.

Before the Australian authorities caught up with him, Christopher Koch led a charmed life in Auckland.

The smiling, 57-year-old, fast-talking sales guru, always in a dark suit and bright tie, drove a black BMW and, boasting a six handicap, played golf at Formosa Golf Resort.

He and his third wife Bianca rented a house in Auckland's Waterview and bred pedigree boxer dogs. Those who knew him say he always carried a wad of tightly rolled up banknotes. Horse mad, Koch gambled regularly at the TAB. He also claimed to be part-owner of various race horses.

When Koch arrived back in New Zealand in 2004, after a stint here in the 1980s, he hit the ground running.

Skilled at building contacts, schmoozing with corporates and selling his story, Koch launched the New Zealand Sales Institute in 2005. It immediately gave him credibility. He had big ideas about transforming the job of a salesman into a respected career backed by an organisation to motivate, teach and support up-and-coming sales people. Individual and corporate members paid $500 and $750 a year, respectively, to belong. Corporate packages cost $10,000 each.

The idea behind the NZSI was, some of his New Zealand creditors say, a good one. Given different circumstances, it could have worked.

Instead, late last year Koch disappeared. The NZSI website closed down, and by March this year, the company had been put into liquidation - by the Auckland Racing Club, which was still owed $11,000 for the NZSI launch at the Ellerslie Events Centre in September 2005.

KOCH'S DISAPPEARANCE took most of his business colleagues, many of whom considered themselves friends, by surprise.

They had no idea there had been money problems in Australia.

Sri Lankan born Koch had arrived in New Zealand armed with stories about his time in America, during which he and Bianca worked for a real estate company selling plots of land.

However, by the second half of last year, many had begun to notice that all was not as it seemed. Koch was struggling with debts and began to borrow money.

By November, Koch's high-flying lifestyle had come unstuck. He had fallen behind in payments to BMW Financial Services for two BMWs he had leased - a black BMW Z4 for Koch and an electric red BMW 118i for Bianca.

On December 18 last year, Detective Anthony Watters from the Auckland CIB paid Koch a visit on behalf of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

Koch was to be extradited to Australia to face $1.5 million worth of fraud charges involving 16 investors.

Watters made the arrest at NZSI's College Hill, Ponsonby, offices and remembers Koch being "flabbergasted" when he walked in and served him with the extradition papers.

Koch spent several days in Auckland Remand Prison before being escorted back to Australia by two Australian policemen, his departure delayed because his passport had expired.

The charges allege that between 1996 and 2000, Koch promoted an investment opportunity to dishonestly obtain property by deception - he faces 21 counts of obtaining property by deception under the Crimes Act and nine counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception under the Crimes Act. Both charges carry a maximum jail term of 10 years. The ASIC says it cannot elaborate on the charges, other than to advise that Koch allegedly told investors he would invest money in a particular scheme that returned very high interest rates. He is believed to be fighting the charges.

Now in Melbourne, Koch has been granted bail on a $107,000 surety and must report daily to police until a pre-trial hearing on September 12.

Koch did not respond to phone messages or emails from the Herald on Sunday.

THE ASIC has been on Koch's trail since 2001, when a documentary on Australia's Channel 7 alerted it to his alleged fraudulent activities. It began an investigation but arrived at Chris and Bianca Koch's home at Sanctuary Cove - an upmarket community on the Gold Coast - too late. They had already left the country.

Koch might well have lived in New Zealand undisturbed for longer, had it not been for a newspaper article in which he talked about setting up the NZSI.

A friend pointed the story out to Australian sales consultant Alf Quinten, who until last month was national sales manager for Schering Pty Ltd, (now Beyer). It was Quinten who alerted Channel 7 to Koch's activities.

The two men had known each other since the very early, 1970s when both in their 20s, they worked as pharmaceutical sales reps in Melbourne. Koch, Quinten says, was good at what he did. When he left the pharmaceutical industry to sell life insurance for AMP, he excelled in that industry also. In the 1990s, he was commanding a $5000 fee as a motivational speaker, but somehow the money would disappear. "I used to describe Chris as a bird of paradise or a feather duster," Quinten says. "One day he would have a million dollars, the next day nothing."

The friends moved to different cities, but Koch kept in touch. One day in the 1990s, Quinten says, Koch rang him offering an investment opportunity, one that would double his investment every six months.

"He told me all he would need would be a month's notice and I would get my money. I had known him for 25 years by this stage. He gave me his bank account number, and I deposited $10,000 in his account."

They two men had sporadic contact, and at one stage Koch told Quinten his investment was now worth $80,000.

Then Quinten became ill and needed cash to pay his medical bills. He rang Koch in November 1999, asking for some of his money. Koch asked for time, and Quinten spent the next 18 months trying to get some of his money back. Eventually, Quinten sued and Koch was declared bankrupt. It was when Quinten's name appeared in the public notices column in a Sydney newspaper that other disgruntled investors contacted him.

Once Koch left Australia, Quinten lost track of him, but by 2004, Koch was in New Zealand, still aiming high and booking himself as a motivational speaker, setting up and promoting his sales institute and becoming involved in some high-profile ventures.

The NZSI was a lavish affair. He invited 800 people to attend the launch, and Telecom, an NZSI corporate member, gave away mobile phones.

Last year, Koch was involved in the ill-fated Small Sales and Marketing Bootcamp, which was to bring several international speakers - including American Bill Rancic, the first winner of Donald Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice, to Auckland. Bootcamp organiser Greg Stewart, who cancelled the event due to low ticket sales, lost his business after the failure of the venture. He denies Koch was involved, but the owner of an Auckland travel company told the Herald on Sunday that Koch had run up a tab of nearly $25,000, buying air tickets for some of the Australian speakers and for Rancic's fiancee, television personality Giuliana DePandi.

The travel company owner, who does not want to be named, says he received $7000 of the money back from Koch, and some of the remaining $18,000 he was able to reclaim from the airlines for tickets that were not used.

The travel company owner says Koch persuaded him that the bootcamp would work and he would be able to pay the money back.

"It's been a learning curve for us. He sucked us all in. We normally don't give credit to anybody but it was my call and it was an expensive mistake."

Undoubtedly, Chris Koch's biggest asset was his gift of the gab. He could tell a string of stories from a colourful life, material he used to full advantage during his motivational speeches.

He claimed to be an international speaker who had shared the stage with General Norman Schwarzkopf and that he was actively involved in motivating the Sri Lankan cricket team before their win in the 1996 World Cup. Alex Kountouris, a physiotherapist for Australia Cricket who worked for Sri Lanka Cricket in the six months leading up to the 1996 World Cup in April that year, says he has no recollection of Koch.

During an unpublished interview with the Herald on Sunday last year, Koch claimed to be advising Auckland University of Technology in the setting up of an innovative sales major attached to the bachelor of business.

It was a claim he made to others he came across in his business dealings. While AUT did launch a sales major in its business degree last year, Chris Koch was not involved.

AUT staff say he persistently tried to be included, but after examining his NZSI website, they decided it was "thinly disguised self-promotion" and distanced themselves from Koch.

But he did manage to become a speaker at AUT's student-run Breakfast Club, which attracts the likes of National Party leader John Key, author Maggie Eyre and Reserve Bank Governor Dr Alan Bollard.

Koch is undoubtedly an entertaining and convincing speaker. Even now, those who are owed money by Koch have a grudging respect for him. He would have been successful, they say, if he had curbed his lifestyle and invested the money as intended.

The Australian charges are of little comfort to a string of New Zealand creditors and colleagues who lent Koch money. They want him back in New Zealand to face his debts.

Former business partner Glenn Edley says he is owed "a substantial amount of money" by Koch.

He took a year off his email marketing business Spikemail to help Koch set up NZSI. In that year, Koch paid him only $11,500 in salary.

Edley was supposed to be a third shareholder, with Koch and his wife holding the other two-thirds. Explaining away the lack of payment, Koch told Edley they were "growing the business".

"My eye we were," Edley says now. "You had to work with Chris to understand how he got away with it. He will tell you what you want to hear." Edley says Koch was doing deals, swapping $750 and $500 NZSI memberships for goods, feeding Koch's lifestyle rather than the business.

Both keen golfers, Chris and Bianca Koch approached Formosa Golf Resort at Beachlands in July 2005, two months before NZSI was launched, wanting to do a deal. Marilyn Watson, then-sales and marketing manager at the exclusive golf club, remembers them well.

Formosa made Koch and his wife members, and new NZSI members were to be offered a free round of golf for four people when they signed on. In exchange, Formosa staff became members of the NZSI, Koch would speak at members' functions and Formosa charity events, and Formosa would have a stand at the NZSI launch in Ellerslie.

Watson was impressed by Koch, so impressed that in March 2006 she resigned from her job and agreed to work for the NZSI as a sales executive, selling memberships and promoting a sales training academy Koch was planning to launch.

"He was very persuasive. He had me believing." After leaving Formosa, Watson took a month's break to shift house and was ready to start at NZSI by the agreed date in the April, on a base salary of $50,000 a year plus commission, a car, a mobile phone, a Bartercard membership and a laptop computer. But by then she had a feeling that all was not right. She hadn't heard from Koch, until a long, apologetic email said a planned sales event had failed and he would phone within the fortnight. "That was the last I ever heard from him," she said.

Tauranga lodge owner Tony Hawkins says Koch persuaded him that his lodge would make an ideal sales academy, where sales people could undergo intensive training for a week at a time.

Hawkins says he spent thousands of dollars on the lodge to make it suitable, but once the work was finished, Koch's plans came to nothing. In addition, Hawkins says, he lent Koch $55,000 to help him over what he thought was a temporary cash shortage.

Now Hawkins wants to band together with other creditors to bring Koch back to New Zealand to face up to his debts.

But Glenn Edley doubts Koch will ever surface in New Zealand again.

"He's stuffed his career here. But he's the kind of guy who will write a bestseller and he'll make lots of money out of it."

Edley's father Greg blames himself for his son's involvement with Koch. It was Edley senior who introduced Koch to Glenn Edley after hearing him speak. Koch sold Greg Edley and a friend a 10 per cent share in a racehorse that didn't exist.

After repeated attempts to get the $3000 back, Edley took him to the Disputes Tribunal in October last year.

Edley says Koch became increasingly agitated and a few days before the hearing paid him the money back in cash.

Looking back, both Greg and Glenn Edley think Koch came to New Zealand to hide.

"He's just a sad case," Greg Edley says. "Eighteen years ago he had the potential to make a lot of money. Properly managed NZSI could have been a success. It gave sales people some standing, some recognition."

There are many other stories - of staff never paid thousands of dollars in commission. Private investigator Dion Blair has seen it all before.

"[People like Koch] don't go after a cold market, they go after a warm market, people that can see or believe in what you are doing."

Blair, of Consumer Credit Management Ltd, was employed by Toyota Finance to find a missing Toyota Avensis after Koch had been extradited. The car had been leased by Koch but signed over to an unsuspecting sales contractor for NZSI as part-payment for work he had carried out.

The sales executive, a former policeman, says he always suspected the tightly rolled up wad of banknotes Koch kept in his pocket were fake.

"The $20 note on the top was real, but I doubt the rest of it was. He used to take it out whenever he was looking for his keys or his wallet. It was just there to impress."

Glenn Edley, back building up Spikemail and writing his weekly web-based newsletter Monday Motivator, says he learned valuable lessons from Koch.

"I had three years at business school crammed into one.

"I learned how not to run a business, and I learned about putting relationships before the sales, something Chris always talked about."

Looking back, Edley says he can see how he was taken in. He's this charming guy, and boy, he's good. I don't think there will ever be another Chris Koch. He is one in a billion."

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