A spectre is haunting the National Business Review — the spectre of Barry Colman.
The business weekly and website, acquired by Todd Scott from rich-lister Colman in a 2012 management buyout, is one of the only independent newspaper publishers in New Zealand.
The deal between the pair used vendor finance, similar in structure to a consumer hire-purchase agreement. This saw Scott effectively borrow the purchase price from Colman, agreeing to pay for the company in regular instalments.
Although both Colman and Scott downplayed any tensions between the two, recent financial moves suggest pressures are building.
According to the Personal Property Securities Register, late last year Colman filed a general security agreement over Scott's holding company Fourth Estate Holdings (2012).
The move gives Colman the right to appoint receivers if at any point repayments are missed or the terms of the agreement are breached.
Both parties insisted the agreement between the pair was being honoured to date. "NBR is fulfilling its capital repayment agreement and is actually ahead of its obligations at present," Colman said.
Neither party were willing to confirm details around the agreement — understood to see Colman still owed $6 million, around half of the full purchase price — but Scott acknowledged the arrangement squeezed his credit options.
"The challenge is that Barry has a GSA over the business and as a long as that is the case it does limit my ability to access outside funding," he said. In February Scott remortgaged his $4.5m St Heliers home with ASB. He confirmed this personal borrowing was related to his involvement in NBR.
Scott pointed to a planned $500,000 investment in NBR's website as evidence of financial health and asked if he was confident of continuing to be able to meet repayment obligations, said: "Absolutely!"
The new ownership at NBR initially saw a rush of new high-profile hirings and the securing of broadcasters Simon Dallow and Susan Wood to open an ambitious new front in television production. Scott began his working career as a butcher before becoming a broadcast announcer — culminating in a short stint in the late 90s presenting the televised Lotto draw — then joining NBR as an advertising salesman in 2008. He has recently gained a public profile of sorts due to social media use, using his Twitter account to disclose family trauma and medical issues, and attack perceived critics and the advertising industry. He said his online activity came from being "raw and real".
"Too many journalists and business people wear a mask to cover what's really going on. I face it and talk about it, Twitter is just a platform I use," he said.
Of his relationship with Colman, Scott said: "Barry is like a father figure to me, there are few people I respect more."
The NBR was founded in 1970 and the business weekly has long been a staple of corporate reception areas. In 1989, when the title was owned by Fairfax and struggling, Colman acquired the masthead and associated bank debt for $1.
Colman, who made his fortune from the Property Press in 1977 and is said by his former publication's rich list to be worth $150m, denied any interest in taking over at the helm of his old newspaper. "I've done the NBR rescue from Fairfax's shambles in 1989 ... I'm 70 and I like wintering on the Gold Coast."