Business Editor for the NZ Herald

Daughter stays at the helm of Hugh Green's $400m empire

Hugh Green's eldest daughter Maryanne before a court hearing in 2014.  Photo / Doug Sherring
Hugh Green's eldest daughter Maryanne before a court hearing in 2014. Photo / Doug Sherring

Maryanne Green remains at the helm of her late father's $400m empire after the Court of Appeal dismissed challenges to her reappointment.

The eldest daughter of philanthropist Hugh Green, Maryanne had been chief executive of the family-owned property firm, the Green Group, but left the business in the 12 months before her father died.

But she won a major legal victory last year when then Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann found Hugh Green had been subject to undue influence from his son John when he made a series of decisions in the last year of his life.

These included removing Maryanne as a trustee and director and signing his final will.

That April 2012 will, signed months before Hugh passed away - added two of his five children, John and Frances Green, and lawyer Michael Fisher as executors.

This small change had a big impact as the executors can appoint people to the trusts that control the entire Green Group.

Justice Winkelmann ruled this to be invalid and reappointed Maryanne to several Green Group companies.

The judge also declared Maryanne was a trustee of the Hugh Green Trust and Hugh Green Property Trust, which control the business side of the Green Group.

She also ruled that John and Frances and Fisher were not validly appointed and were not directors of the Green Group firms.

Dissatisfied with that outcome, John and the other trustees and executors challenged Justice Winkelmann's decision in the Court of Appeal.

The main thrust of their appeal was there was no direct evidence of undue influence and no justification for inferring it.

They argued that Hugh Green wanted his children to run the business together but Maryanne would have none of it.

Hugh Green eventually lost patience with her, they claimed, and that Justice Winkelmann should have drawn the inference that Maryanne was the author of her own misfortune and that her removal was the result of her refusing to co-operate.

The Court of Appeal said it was a central theme of the challenge that it wasn't "about the money" but wanting Hugh's wishes respected.

However, Justices Rhys Harrison, Christine French and Stephen Kos said there was solid evidential basis for all of the High Court's findings.

"They are findings with which we agree, having ourselves independently
reviewed the evidence. The findings are supported not only by Maryanne's
narrative, but also importantly by contemporaneous documentation, including John's own written communications. The Judge did not misapply the law. Nor did she misconstrue the facts," they said in their decision on Friday.

They found no grounds to interfere with Justice Winkelmann's orders and dismissed the appeals.

The trio also had a final comment for the family.

"Hugh Green was a remarkable man who left his family a remarkable legacy.
He was generous and it was clear from the evidence that he wanted the wealth he
created to be a positive thing and a force for good," they said.

"During the hearing, both sides professed to know Hugh's wishes. But one thing is beyond all doubt. Hugh would not have wanted to see the children he loved embroiled in wasteful and destructive litigation. There are no fewer than three proceedings on foot, with the prospect of more to come," the judges said.

"The measures put in place by [Justice Winkelmann] are working well, but they are
only interim stop-gap measures. There is a need for a permanent solution, which
ultimately can only be achieved by the family itself."

- NZ Herald

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