Sharing secrets as tradesmen beg

By Maria Slade

Don Ha says he can teach a lot of people in business what not to do. Photo / Janna Dixon
Don Ha says he can teach a lot of people in business what not to do. Photo / Janna Dixon

Don Ha is a self-made man. The story of the 12-year-old Vietnamese refugee whose first business venture was selling watercress to the supermarkets for 99 cents a bunch is well known.

An ill-fated night-club venture at 19 followed and a stint with Amway. He went against his father's wishes and opened a bakery business but the early starts were hard slog.

Then, in the early 1990s, Ha discovered real estate, selling 86 houses in his first year. Ha was on his way.

In 2007, he made the NBR Rich List with an estimated fortune of $60 million. In 2008, he paid a record $2 million for a Zabeel-Sunline colt and, on New Year's Day 2009, sponsored the Auckland Cup at Ellerslie.

His Ray White Manukau office is number one in the country "by miles" and he boasts of creating 16 millionaires among his staff.

And creating millionaires has now become a business in itself. After speaking at seminars over the years, the 42-year-old has formalised the Don Ha Academy, a life and business coaching enterprise.

Its first "Key to Wealth Seminar" is being held at Auckland's Langham Hotel next weekend. For $399 plus GST - or a $99 GST-inclusive early bird special - you will hear how to make "the quantum leap you need to start you on your path to financial success".

Ha is expecting about 600 people and an outpouring of emotion. "I've seen people cry. I've seen people jump and hug me on stage. I'm just overwhelmed by the response to my message when I talk at other events."

Three to four large-scale seminars will be held a year, plus monthly workshops around the country.

Ha will also handpick a group of people he will mentor for a year.

"The Don Ha Academy will become the biggest coaching company in business and wealth creation, so yes it is another business and it will complement my real estate business, because of a lot of wealth is created by real estate."

And then, he laughs, we'll go to the world.

While Ha prepares to take his message global, down in South Auckland a clutch of building contractors is still smarting from its involvement with his residential development company, DH Homes Trustee.

DH Homes, of which Ha is the sole director and shareholder, subdivided and built about 30 homes in the area in 2007 and 2008. Hit by the downturn, it began struggling to pay its bills.

One concrete contractor says tradespeople were called to a meeting at Ha's Manukau office at which he urged them to "bear with him".

By Christmas 2008, the concreter was owed more than $20,000. After numerous phone calls, "I ended up basically staging sit-ins in his office".

After an hour of sitting on the sofa one day, Ha eventually came out "all smiles" and handed over a cheque for $12,000, saying things were awkward and the balance would follow.

In the end, the out-of-pocket contractors joined forces and went to a debt collector. "After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we got half the money on the terms that we shut up, went away and left him alone. If we went for more, he wasn't going to give us anything, he'd basically liquidate."

Other tradespeople tell a similar story. But gib installer Mark Allington refused to accept the half settlement. "If a guy was on the bones of his arse and not driving around in a black Maserati, you'd probably think a little bit more. But I thought, 'bugger him'."

He began proceedings to have DH Homes Trustee liquidated - in the end the company paid the $34,000 owing plus legal expenses, but over time. Allington said he had to keep threatening to continue with the liquidation petition. "Then another $3000 would come in the next bloody day."

Ha says he can't recall what happened over DH Homes' outstanding bills as it was handled by his accountant.

But negotiations took place and people were happy with the final outcome.

"You have to make decisions to survive and, if you don't make these decisions, then you won't be here today."

He says there were problems with supplies and people may not be aware of the full story.

DH Homes is not Ha's only less-than-successful business venture.

He estimates he lost "probably a few million" in his foray into bloodstock.

He became embroiled in a $2.2 million wrangle with New Zealand Bloodstock over loans for horses. He disputed that a colt and a filly delivered to his Diamond Stud had been bought on his behalf.

Earlier this year, the High Court ordered Ha to repay the loan. He appealed but lost.

Ha says it's all good fodder for his seminars. "These mistakes that I made, I can teach people what not to do."

- Herald on Sunday

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