Alan Duff: Remarkable man delivers world of good

Mainfreight founder is an inspiration in harnessing power of teamwork to help his community.
Books in homes has now handed out 12 million books - more than all the books in South Island libraries. Photo / NZME
Books in homes has now handed out 12 million books - more than all the books in South Island libraries. Photo / NZME

We've just passed a milestone with 12 million books given out on our Books in Homes literacy programme. From an idea back in 1993 that turned into a dream, it was one of the few things in my life to involve a team.

Writing a novel is a solo, lonely task and requires somehow finding a head space in which you hope to make order out of chaos. In my case some adverse life experiences were necessary. Writing a newspaper column is also a solitary task. Hell, back in '93 I even played golf alone.

That we achieved more than the sum of our few parts is testimony to doing things as a team. That's the trustees, office team, sponsors, teachers, Education Ministry, several Prime Ministers and other unsung supporters. We were also lucky in forming a partnership with listed company Mainfreight, quite the most extraordinary company in New Zealand history; more on that soon.

In the same year I was the Nigel-no-mates golfer, someone invited me to join a group who would end up my good friends in Hawkes Bay; people I credit with "healing" a part of me that was damaged emotionally and socially. This bunch of farmers, predominantly, several surgeons, a lawyer, Hawkes Bay's top caterer and a remarkable advertising guru taught me how to socialise, how to give of myself instead of being the arms-folded, defensive lone wolf.

They taught me it's a fool's world not running with the pack, at least recreationally, and in most things you do. A notion, reinforced when I got to know Mainfreight's founder, called Team.

Back in 1988, I quit smoking and made a major self-discovery: ending a bad habit put paid to other bad habits. I married the right woman, cut losers out of my life. I stuck to writing a novel - all 12 drafts of it - that ended up changing my and my family's lives. I finished things.

Not long after my first book was published in 1990, I was reading my favourite columnist Bob Jones' latest and - shock - he was praising my book. Bob became a good friend and got me a column for the then Evening Post that was quickly syndicated to nine other newspapers.

Bruce Plested. Photo / Martin Sykes
Bruce Plested. Photo / Martin Sykes

In 1994, I got a call from someone who asked what I was up to in terms of community projects. Telling him of my embryonic literacy scheme, I received a letter containing a five-figure cheque. We met a couple of months later and have been close friends ever since.

In my first novel I had a character, Beth Heke, realising her home was "bookless", as was the case with everyone she knew.

I wrote this in 1989-90 and was not to know it was the seed of a literacy programme now in more than 500 schools and 250 early childhood centres in New Zealand, involving 100,000-plus children here, as well operating in Australia and the US, thanks to Mainfreight.

With the founder of Mainfreight behind us and fullest buy-in from his formidable chief executive, they were never going to see us fail, only we could do that. A company with 243 branches worldwide, they're strongly community-minded, green, share the profits and consider themselves one big family of now 6400 people. I've been privileged to see up-close this company grow from under $100 million a year in revenue, to $2.28 billion now.

It's a fool's world not running with the pack, at least recreationally, and in most things you do.

If only my own finances mirrored such long-term vision!

Last week our friend was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame. There should be another Hall of Generosity, and another Hall of Contribution. Yet another Hall of Unique Business Practices. Throw in another Hall of Treating Everyone With Respect. A Hall of Profit Sharing, Hall of Modesty. And the last, Hall of Great New Zealanders.

And there you have it in one package: Bruce Plested. A man who has achieved more than most, given more than most, and will find this column embarrassing, if not upsetting. But it had to be said, as he would never say a word.

12 million books. We're told that's more than all the books in South Island's libraries. We give out about 700,000 books a year under the rock solid management of Linda Vagana and her small team. New schools continue to join us on our beautiful journey. It's a Team achievement.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Alan Duff

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 20 Jan 2017 17:27:33 Processing Time: 527ms