Family businesses strong foundation for knights' philanthropy

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, NZPA

David Levene. Photo / Herald on Sunday
David Levene. Photo / Herald on Sunday

"Of course, you need to make profit in a business," says David Levene, OBE, but most important for him during his long business career was "security for my people and my family".

Now aged 80, he is today made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours, for services to business and the community.

Sir David first worked in the family paint business in 1947, spent a few years elsewhere, then returned to take over management of the firm in 1952 when he was 23.

During the next 40 years the company adopted many retailing innovations as it became a household name, before he sold the business in 1994.

The Auckland University Auckland Business History Project noted that throughout his career, Sir David had practised an "action-oriented management approach".

"At Levenes, he preferred to be on the road visiting stores and serving customers, rather than sitting at a desk in head office. Customer complaints he dealt with personally," the project said.

Although he sold the Levene business 16 years ago, Sir David has continued to have numerous business interests as well as working on a range of community activities.

The ventures he is involved in now include horticulture, property development, high technology start-ups and television production.

"I guess my theory is when young people come along who, in my opinion, have lots of talent, I feel they're worthy of support," Sir David said.

"Of course, it can be beneficial to me as well, not necessarily only financially, but mixing with young people keeps you active and keeps your mind working."

His investments are all in this country, with Sir David saying New Zealand had been wonderful to him and his family and "I'm happy to do anything I can to support the country".

Meanwhile, a bottle of cough syrup proved to be the winning formula for Sir Graeme Douglas, whose pharmaceuticals business took off soon after its release.

Founder and now managing director of Douglas Pharmaceuticals, Mr Douglas now becomes Sir Graeme, having been made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the honours.

He receives the award for his services to philanthropy and athletics.

Sir Graeme has spent over 40 years helping others and being involved in the family business.

Now in his 80s, he was first made a member of the order in 1988.

What is now the family business was established in 1967 in Te Atatu, West Auckland, where he was a chemist in the late 1950s.

The company, which is now worth around $100 million, took off after the first product Sir Graeme made himself - a cough syrup - became widely successful.

The award also recognises his work and involvement in athletics, as well as with several charities, community groups and children.

Sir Graeme supports the Waitakere City Athletics Club, which includes coaching programmes for athletes, and was a representative shot-putter for Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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