Avuncular, bearded, bespectacled, affable Sandy Maier, 59, was born in New York's lower east side, growing up in the shadow of the Empire State Building, then going to the United States' two best universities.

Looking for all the world like he would be more at home in a Woody Allen movie than managing New Zealand's worst financial disaster, the Harvard and Yale graduate and son of a Manhattan businessman is the friendly face of the ill-fated South Canterbury Finance, in receivership, subject this week to a $1.7 billion taxpayer-funded bailout amounting to a cost of about $400 a head for each one of us.

Despite his reputation as the country's best corporate fixer, for all his global banking and credit recovery skills, Maier turned out to be unable to rescue SCF, the team negotiating until precisely 4.37am on Tuesday for a new equity partner to inject necessary cash to keep it afloat.

Replacing the reticent, taciturn Lachie McLeod, the more effusive, vocal and high-profile Maier agreed only to a one-year chief executive contract last December, saying loudly at the time that he would leave at the end because if it couldn't be fixed by then, it was broke.

He hit back at critics this week after the receivership, stating clearly that SCF was all but broke in late 2009 when he got there, with precisely $7 million cash in the bank when he walked in the door, the same tiny amount when it hit the skids.

Maier's middle name Lee is as in General Robert E. Lee and his Sandy is actually more correctly Samford, a family variation on Samuel but Maier complains no one spells it right so it was easier for everyone that it be shortened.

For about 20 years, he worked in the Caribbean and South America's finance sectors so how this Ivy League lawyer from the Big Apple was appointed boss of Timaru-headquartered non-bank financier might be best summed up in his own words, his corporate life here dating back 18 years: "Financial, human resources, strategic management and corporate governance consultant, 1992 to present - representative assignments includes contract CEO for a major finance company; governance, credit process, and liability strategy reviews for non-bank finance companies; restructuring advice and implementation for an iconic branded plastics exporter; strategic advice to a central bank on banking sector supervision; downsizing and sale of a major telecommunications provider; structuring advice for a start-up processed cheese venture; chairing an international project development conference; contract CEO for a private company commercialising patented escalator step advertising worldwide and a publicly traded aquaculture/wine company; strategist for refinancing and restructuring the kiwifruit industry monopoly; financial advice to the largest New Zealand corporate farmer; insolvency advice for a government department involved in indigenous affairs; expert witness in a highly public insolvency trial; negotiating settlement in a long running construction dispute and over $200 million in construction agreements in China."

Whew! Right, so that is banking, plastics, phones, cheese, wine, fruit, farming and building?

Maier explains his varied career partly by citing his background, growing up in an ethnically diverse part of New York which sparked an appetite to travel and experience other countries and cultures.

Trained as a lawyer, he carved out an early career as a troubleshooter with giant US financier Citibank/Citicorp, sorting out bad real estate loans and collapsed hotel condominium projects, squeezing cash out of rotten lending, a bit like the SCF job all these years later.

Appointed to Puerto Rico in the mid-1970s, he was the bank's assistant manager, then manager for mortgages and real estate. He recalls being responsible for the "outwork" of US$25 million of troubled real estate lending there and the Virgin Islands and says he gained extensive experience in "origination, underwriting and administration of an integrated mortgage portfolio".

In 1977, he moved to more trouble in Jamaica with the same bank where he managed 20 staff and eliminated US$10 million of losses in commercial and residential real estate lending across 12 branches, later being appointed country credit officer and regional real estate supervisor from 1979 to 1981 of the bank's Caribbean operations, responsible for all corporate, personal, real estate, leasing and government lending and branch banking.

"I supervised credit policy in Jamaica, simultaneously managing real estate credit processes in six Caribbean nations - all turnaround situations," Maier recalls. As the bank's Jamaica chief executive 1981-1983, Maier was responsible for 120 staff and US$5 million profits and he oversaw the first successful deunionisation in Jamaican labour history.

A move to South America 1985-1986 saw him the bank's product group head of Brazil, with responsibility for wholesale and retail banking, insurance, stockbroking and funds management across 30 subsidiaries.

"I had direct management of an additional US$600 million in assets and US$25 million in profits from leasing, electronic banking, venture capital and information technology businesses with 300 staff," he said.

The Brazil appointment was an enormous task, Maier remembering it for colossal "mind-bending numbers".

From Brazil to New Zealand is not such a long hop so his first stint here was 1986-1990, establishing the bank as its chief executive, "responsible for planning, implementing and managing corporate policy for institutional, investment and individual banking. A banking licence was granted and retail banking introduced, $600 million in assets, 120 staff and US$5 million in profit."

Before he came here, Maier had a great image of New Zealand, an exciting place to be as the country deregulated its banking sector. The keen tramper and outdoor fan was drawn here for the country's wild beauty although he recalls his arrival was an unfortunate time, just as the 1980s finance boom hit its peak. The only way from there was downhill.

So it was that Maier became a clean-up merchant once again instead of a bank boss. He found himself on the red side of the ledger after the Treasury invited him in 1990 to be statutory manager of the Development Finance Corporation, at the time a national financial disaster, the ex-state-owned then-privatised lender, bankrupted in 1989 and then liquidated.

"I was appointed by the Reserve Bank [ex-Governor Don Brash] and Minister of Finance [David Caygill] to manage the insolvency of the $2.2 billion finance group with over 400 subsidiaries. The recapitalisation/restructuring plan was accepted by 99 per cent of international institutional investors in November 1990. We completed all debt repayments three years in advance of maturities, sold 200 major pieces of real estate, completed or settled 300 lawsuits and reduced staff to 25 people. I was awarded a Commemoration Medal for Services to New Zealand," Maier concludes succinctly of his DFC days. He was the Government's appointment to the Bank of New Zealand, due he recalls to his role at DFC.

In the 1990s, he returned to the US, mainly for the sake of his children who were reaching university age, but New Zealand still held a strong lure for him and he decided not to go to Madison Ave and start banging on doors saying 'guess who I am?' but instead, agreed to various directorships in New Zealand, recalling how he would fly down here regularly as the work increased.

He and his wife Sherry live in the heritage zone of housing near Cheltenham Beach.

He says he will carry on with his directorships and is looking forward to having his weekends back.

"I'm alive and well, it's been an interesting week, I've still got my sense of humour."

Samford Lee Maier jnr
Born: 1951, New York

* Married to Sherry Maier, two children and two stepchildren

Lives: Auckland's North Shore

Dual citizenship: NZ/US

Reads: Spanish and Portuguese


* Graduated 1972, Bachelor of Arts in Spanish literature, magna cum laude with honours, Yale University, Connecticut

* Graduated 1975, Doctor of Jurisprudence, Harvard Law School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Independent chairmanships:

* GEON Group

* Learning Media

* NZAX-listed Oyster Bay Marlborough Vineyards

* Pathfinder Asset Management

* Radius Property

Independent directorships:

* Click Clack

* Fronde

* Mighty River Power

* McConnell Group

* Perpetual Capital Management

* Taranaki Investment Management

* Ultimate Care Group

* Ngai Tahu Holdings

* Other private companies