Sad end to moving tale of boy made good

By Tony Verdon

Allan Hubbard - A Man out of Time
by Virginia Green, Random House, $44
The astounding fall from being the South Island's richest man to living on a pension is the truly sad story of Timaru accountant and businessman Allan Hubbard.
From a fortune counted in the hundreds of millions, Hubbard this year has had to stand by and watch as his empire crumbled to the point where the Government has placed him and his wife, Jean, in statutory management.
This after a business career spanning more than five decades, during which he is estimated to have donated about $200 million to charities and the needy.
The family are known for their modest lifestyle and extremely frugal ways, all of which, this book says, stem from Hubbard's poverty-stricken childhood growing up in Dunedin during the depression.
Not only did Hubbard come from an impoverished family, he later found out that his grandmother and mother had been prostitutes. His father, who beat him, was an alcoholic.
As a juvenile, Hubbard indulged in petty crime before he became involved in the Knox Church in Dunedin. He toyed with the idea of becoming a missionary before settling on an accounting career.
After setting up an accountancy practice in Timaru, Hubbard became a legend in the community, helping hundreds of local farmers and others who showed him they were prepared to work hard for success.
Along the way he became involved in pioneering ventures such as Helicopters NZ, encouraging the conversion of thousands of hectares of South Canterbury farmland to dairy production and apple growing - financing it through his various entities, including South Canterbury Finance.

Throughout his career he believed in hard work and thrift, and maintains his frugal lifestyle to this day. Now in his 80s and having to undergo kidney dialysis for five hours, three times a week, Hubbard is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office and other authorities.
And yet his scores of supporters protest his innocence and still believe he could have saved his empire if the government had not swooped in and taken over.
This is a detailed and sympathetic biography and when Virginia Green began writing it four years ago, she could not have envisaged how dramatic the final chapters would become.
They are a detailed outline of the way his colleagues abandoned him and how government authorities were anxious to take over once they became convinced that South Canterbury Finance could not survive.
Hubbard is criticised for his "out of time" approach to business, often done on a handshake rather than complex legal documentation.
And yet once bankers and bureaucrats began ousting him from the operations, a bad situation turned to financial disaster.
Hubbard will remain a remarkable example of someone who pulled themselves up from desperate poverty and acted with honesty and integrity. He became a hero in his community and played a trail-blazing role in New Zealand's economic development.
Investigations into his businesses continue, but it is difficult to imagine the last has been heard from Hubbard, even though he is aged and suffers ill-health.
This book goes some way to placing on record his remarkable career and contribution to New Zealand.
If his health holds up, look out for this spirited South Islander to re-emerge once the dust settles on the various inquiries under way.

- Northern Advocate

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