When Eric Watson boarded an Air New Zealand flight in Los Angeles on September 17, 2008, en route to New Zealand from London, he had a lot on his mind.

He was heading home mainly to watch his beloved Warriors league team play their preliminary semi-final against the Roosters.

But there was also the pressing matter of Hanover Finance. Two trustee firms, a gaggle of lawyers and insolvency doyen John Waller, from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, had been on Watson's and joint Hanover owner Mark Hotchin's tails since they froze the company's $550 million of assets two months earlier. Hanover had joined a swelling list of finance companies to strike problems when the global financial crisis left high-risk borrowers unable to repay loans, and investors unwilling to provide any more money.

Just two days before Watson's flight, global financial services firm Lehman Brothers had sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after racking up a US$3.7 billion loss, earning it the dubious honour of being the United States' largest bankruptcy.

Back home, Hanover investors had become restless over how long it was taking Watson and Hotchin to come up with a plan to address the firm's ills.

As Watson headed towards business class he recognised a TV3 cameraman who regularly covered Warriors games.

They chatted fleetingly about the impending game, which the Warriors would go on to win.

"I've been instructed not to talk to media under any circumstances," Watson joked.

"Well, we're all here mate," said the cameraman.

The distress on Watson's face was palpable as he turned around and found himself surrounded by business media. We were guests of Air New Zealand, returning from an environmental test flight to see how much CO2 emissions could be reduced in optimal flying conditions.

"This is my worst nightmare," said Watson as he settled into his sleeping pod.

Since he moved to London in 2002, Watson has rarely been available for interviews except for the odd comment about the Warriors.

It's a far cry from the mid to late nineties, when as a fledgling entrepreneur heading for the rich list, he was virtually on tap to reporters who all had his mobile number. He would gladly oblige with comments about his latest investment in technology-related companies, office products, healthcare, appliances, retailing, lingerie, debt and waste collection, or whatever else was on his acquisition radar.

On many an occasion he would answer the phone sweating and panting in his private gym. Watson is fanatical about fitness, as his toned body attests.

My seat on the flight was directly across the aisle from Watson's.

"We really would like to know what your plans are for Hanover," I ventured.

He wanted to think about that request, he said. The following morning, over an early breakfast above the Pacific, he came to the party, grumping about how difficult it had been dealing with the Guardian Trust and Perpetual, trustees for Hanover and its sister company United (its assets also frozen).

In essence, he said he and Hotchin would offer investors a $96 million rescue package with a pledge of $40 million of commercial and residential assets and $56 million in cash.

Cash and assets were the only way, he said, otherwise "you are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic".

Watson said the cash amount was much higher than it should have been, but never substantiated why he believed that was the case.

Hotchin and Watson have frequently been accused of treating Hanover like their personal bank, taking millions of dollars out in dividends and borrowing from it for their own property developments. Watson wasn't prepared to talk about that either.

In the end, Hanover's assets were sold to Allied Farmers last year.

The plane interview did give an insight into Watson's take on the global business arena where he is still active.

He expected global financial markets to get worse before they got better. He predicted the only survivors of the Wall Street financial crisis would be Credit Suisse in Switzerland, and Bank of America and JP Morgan in the US.

"Company losses have to be marked to market at $1 but collected at 70c even though it is not cash," he lamented. "The equity didn't suit the accounting."

Not surprisingly, he didn't think debentures would ever again be well received in the New Zealand market.

At the time of that flight he was buoyed by a 38.9 per cent rise in the latest quarterly sales for American Apparel, the US branded cotton T-shirt manufacturer he had merged with his US-listed Victory Acquisition Corp the previous December.

American Apparel's fortunes have now turned pear-shaped but Watson has exited.