Cook's recipe transformed family legacy

By Anne Gibson

Warkworth-based media owner Tony Cook once walked away from his family's business.

He and his mother, the late Marjorie Cook, had a falling-out over technological advances in printing and he went to live in Sydney.

Cook was disenchanted with what he saw as dilapidated and non-productive machinery in the family's printing plant, unable to meet the advertising world's growing sophistication.

But the dominant and powerful Marjorie Cook refused to budge.

So he took off for two years and worked for an import-export business. Marjorie Cook apparently prayed they would be reunited, but it was only when her daughter, Annette Cook, visited Australia on holiday that the impasse was broken.

Annette Cook was downtown when she noticed a man with a familiar gait to her brother across the road. She called out. The man who turned around was Tony. Cook then wrote to his mother and returned home for Christmas soon afterwards to take over and drive through his vision for the publishing business.

Three decades of hard work and eye-watering expansion later, the tall, silver-haired, patrician Cook, now in his late 50s, has just cashed up most of that business.

He and his sisters were heirs to the three-generation family newspaper, printing and radio dynasty, which this month sold control of the country's biggest privately owned, diversified media empire to Australians and Canadians.

Tony, Annette and Angela Cook owned the multi-faceted Times Media Group, established by their grandfather, William Thompson Rauparaha Cook, proprietor of the Rodney and Otamatea Times, first published in March 1901.

This week, the Cooks sold the Warkworth-based printing company and three tabloid newspaper titles it produces to Australian newspaper group Fairfax and Australian printing company PMP for $22.8 million.

Gone too is the radio station. Last week, the Cooks sold their Times FM to CanWest MediaWorks. The adult contemporary station, established in 2002, broadcast to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, Hibiscus Coast and throughout Rodney District, on 89.9FM and 96.6FM.

But the Cooks keep the 5.3ha Warkworth publishing work property and desktop publishing business Microdot with its core software packages, Smartpage, enabling clients to produce their own advertising catalogues, brochures and web-based products.

Smartpage is aimed particularly at real estate agencies, allowing them to compile and produce web-based property advertisements.

Fairfax is buying the tabloid Rodney Times, The Coaster of Orewa and real estate advertising Outlook titles for less than $10.8 million. PMP is buying the printing assets for $12 million.

Times Media spokeswoman Rose Powell said Cook was refusing to speak about the deals or grant interviews.

Cook was 29 when he was handed the business.

Marjorie Cook had been forced to take over after her husband, Elsley Cook, died in 1955, and ran the business until 1976.

After leaving school, Tony Cook's first job was working in the print factory, turning out copies of the Rodney Times.

When Cook took over in 1976 the printer was a family affair employing about 10 staff. But he embraced the glossy, colour and then digital ages and transformed his legacy.

Just a year after taking over, he bought a four-unit Hantscho press and set a new direction for the company. He moved it away from letterpress to litho production, beginning its evolution into web offset printing.

The press was bought mainly to print the Rodney Times, but Cook had his eye on contract printing throughout the expanding Auckland market.

Demand was so strong that by the 1980s, he realised the $100,000 Hantscho could not cope so, in 1983, he decided to move further into contract printing.

A new 3500sq m printing plant was built and a vast 10-unit press from France was imported to print broadsheet and tabloid newspapers.

Demand for glossy colour products saw further plant purchases and development in 1988. By 1990, Cook had transformed his family's business and it was then he formed Times Media Group, which has offices at Warkworth, Orewa, Takapuna, Wellington and Dunedin.

But Cook could see a new printing age dawning and he turned to digital prepress productions. More than a decade ago, he and a colleague went to the Sybold Print Convention in San Francisco and brought back the first desktop publishing software on the market. They bought a desktop scanner and converted an early-model typesetting image setter at Warkworth to produce four-colour separated pages from desktop.

The Takapuna-based digital business Microdot was established soon afterwards.

Securing contracts to print Barry Colman's National Business Review more than a decade ago, some of his Property Press real estate titles - since sold to ACP - and Motor Buyer's Guide, Motor Cycle Trader, Auto Trader and Farm Trader was a key to Cook's expansion plans.

Fairfax's magazine for the Sunday Star-Times, farming publications Straight Furrow and Rural News, Inland Revenue Department tax guides and retail mailers and catalogues for chains including Mitre 10 and New World are some of the other titles out of the printing plant.

With a staff of 350 working in shifts, Times Media Group is one of the Rodney District's largest employers. It delivers more than 140,000 copies of publications weekly in the area.

Cook, a philanthropist, is a strong supporter of local businesses including Morris & James Pottery & Tileworks. A keen sailor, he owns three boats and - for 19 years - was one of the main sponsors of the Rotary Club's annual print and packaging yacht regatta sailed around Kawau Island.

Cook, who lives at Ti Pt near Leigh, is yet to announce his next move, but a family member believes he will be loath to retire and expects him to move into active investing.

Tony Cook

* Managing director Times Media Group.

* Publisher, printer, newspaper and radio station owner.

* Raised at Warkworth, north of Auckland.

* Attended Warkworth Primary School.

* Boarded at Auckland's Sacred Heart College.

* Third-generation owner of family business.

* Survived a serious car accident, severely damaging his leg and arm.

* A Canadian and two Australian companies have bought most family assets.

* Keen yachtsman, philanthropist and supporter of local businesses.

* Wife Sue, children Anthony, 21, and Nicola, 19.

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