Entrepreneurial minded deal-makers like the late Craig Norgate dubbed Allan Hubbard "mother."
The Timaru-based financier – at the centre of a new book 'The billion dollar bonfire: How Allan Hubbard and the Government destroyed South Canterbury Finance '- could rustle you up cash as a last resort for bridging finance. He liked a good venture. A good story. And if he liked you, you got lucky.
It was Norgate who mused to me that "you only get one Allan Hubbard in your life time". The entrepreneur had himself leveraged up large and made financial commitments he could not keep as he built a rural services empire. Then ran out of funding options when the impact of the Global Financial Crisis crunched international credit lines.
But said Norgate, when he called up Hubbard as a last resort, 'mother's cupboard" was bare.
The collapse of Hubbard's flagship South Canterbury Finance is one of the biggest New Zealand financial stories of the 21st century.
Author Chris Lee - writing from the perspective of having himself had executive management roles at General Finance in the early 1980s, before he formed his own share-broking and financial advisory business - has produced a thought-provoking book.
Lee has been a trenchant critic of market behaviour. But what sets this book apart is that he knew Hubbard personally, was privy to many of his confidences, had invested his own client's money into South Canterbury Finance, had tried on perpetual preference shareholders' behalf to get some financial redress for them after the Government refused to come to the party on restructuring options - yet he has not shied away from the hard questions.
It was known that Hubbard had a gambling streak. At heart he was running a Ponzi scheme covering up occasional losses by injecting his own capital or physical assets to bolster balance sheets so they looked healthy, says Lee.
This is the defining difference between Hubbard and other such operators who always relied on other people's money (new investors) to cover losses.
But Hubbard's empire came crashing down when an anonymous person blew the whistle to Government officials claiming that he had stolen money from Aorangi Securities - one of his private vehicles.
In June 2010, both Hubbard and his late wife Jean, along with Aorangi, were put into statutory management setting off a chain of events which ultimately resulted in South Canterbury Finance - which was one of the largest finance companies in New Zealand - being put into receivership.
The Government's decision to put Hubbard into statutory management has been critiqued many times before. Shockingly, it took a lengthy legal battle before he was allowed to access funds to fight his corner.
The Government officials were dead wrong. The claims that Hubbard had taken Aorangi's money to buy farms were incorrect. He had in fact put the farms into Aorangi to bolster the balance sheet but in a typically convoluted way.
By 2014, Grant Thornton could report that Aorangi's investors were repaid all their capital over the course of the statutory management.
South Canterbury Finance is a different matter. Its depositors were the beneficiaries of a Government guarantee signed during the GFC. Former CEO Sandy Maier - the subject of much criticism by Lee - put SCF's collapse down to excessive debt, poor risk management, unnecessary complexity, poor governance and a 'too big to fail' attitude. It was over-exposed to the property sector.
Hubbard's influence was quickly curtailed. But not before he signed over more assets to offset loans he had taken from SCF.
I share Lee's view that the John Key Government acted precipitantly by refusing to back a restructure. A great deal of taxpayer's coin was burned as a result as assets were sold too cheaply as the company was wound out.
Hubbard did have an occasional nasty streak.
I observed this upfront when I flew down to Timaru several times to talk with him after control of South Canterbury Finance was wrestled from him. He took it out on his wife.
At heart Hubbard was both an anarchist and a narcissist. In my conversations with him he cocked a snoot at 21st century governance conventions scoffing at so-called blue chip directors who didn't have a clue about what was going in their companies.
That there is an element of truth to this can be judged by the high-profile failures and bailouts in the construction sector and the demise of the NZ-owned banking sector.
He had plenty of tales. One reminiscence was about how he and the late Dunedin entrepreneur Howard Paterson would have a board meeting. But would instead shoot the breeze on some new opportunity. Their non-existent board discussion would be backfilled and documented later along with their decisions.
This paperwork failure was writ large across his business.
Out of respect for his family, I sat on the story on how Hubbard planned to take his life. But I can vouch that Lee is correct when he writes that Hubbard planned that rather than face trial charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office.
When we broke the news in the Weekend Herald that Hubbard had died my first thought was he had crashed their car rather than face trial.
I'm pleased that Lee's research finally puts that notion to rest.
I don't claim to have known Allan Hubbard all that well. Much of the time we did spend together in the months before he died was talking about the business climate, trends, people and opportunities (although there was plenty on John Key, the Government and statutory managers - most unprintable).
But if, back in the day, I had been a budding entrepreneur trying to get a good idea off the ground I would have been tempted to "call mother" too.