Damien Grant: Risks bring a noble fall

Terry Serepisos has lived more than most. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Terry Serepisos has lived more than most. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Terry Serepisos had it all. The models, The Apprentice, soccer club and, of course, a Ferrari or two. It was satisfying to see him publicly asset-stripped.

We all enjoy watching a naked emperor's disgrace. "Good job" is the nasty little New Zealand phrase we use in such circumstances.

Most of us fail to live up to our commercial potential. We shelter in quiet economic harbours, safe from the turbulent waters of commerce and look smugly at foreign upstarts like Serepisos when they face-plant.

Their failure justifies our own inadequacy, yet we need the likes of Serepisos and his comrades - Nigel McKenna, Henderson (either one), Andrew Krukziener , et al.

Yes, they all failed, but they also all lived.

Serepisos, in one season of The Apprentice, lived more than most law partners do in a lifetime - and we resent him for it. The only difference between Serepisos and Donald Trump is the quality of their insolvency lawyer, although Serepisos has his own hair.

McKenna told me it was developers like him who built the Viaduct, not the America's Cup, as is often misreported.

He is right. A migrant like Serepisos, McKenna has done what only a few King's College alumni such as Krukziener have managed: he has made a substantial contribution to New Zealand. We need risk-takers in our economy and some risk-takers will fail. If no one ever fails then there are not enough risks being taken.

Alongside our fallen property developers in the quagmire of commercial hell is virtually the entire second-tier finance industry. From Allied Nationwide to Western Bay Finance - all gone.

Good riddance, you may think, given the collection of cowboys, crooks and charlatans that populated that industry, yet most were honest businesses. Yes, they failed, but so did Air New Zealand, and this industry did a lot of good.

The finance industry contained less than 3 per cent of the banking sector's assets but a 2006 Ministry of Economic Development report determined it filled important gaps in the credit markets that banks dared not touch, including high-risk property developments.

Now that most of our property developers are out of the game and the finance industry has been eviscerated, who will build and fund the 26,000 houses a year that we need? Not the pretentious private-school elite who fawn over the likes of Serepisos on his way up and snigger at him on the way down.

Not the fee-gouging lawyers and insolvency practitioners who are feasting on others' failed enterprises. Not the well-paid bureaucrats from myriad Crown agencies who drink the champagne of those whose prosecutions they are paid to oversee, and most certainly not the frightened gnomes in our banks' lending departments.

People like McKenna and Serepisos. Indeed, McKenna and Serepisos themselves. Three years is not so long. Hurry back, and bring some finance wide-boys with you.

- Herald on Sunday

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