By PAUL PANCKHURST
The "gentleman sharemarket investor" was one newspaper report's description of George Gould, 42. How quaint.
"Blue blood" is another term that crops up in descriptions of Gould, a member of the fifth generation of a prominent Christchurch business family.
Quizzed on this, Gould says he is no more blue-blooded than the interviewer, then apologises - "sorry, you might be extremely blue-blooded" - then, finally, dismisses the topic with: "It's just not a factor".
Business Herald columnist Brian Gaynor described him only last year as "well worth following", a representative of "a new generation of South Island businessmen with an impressive track record".
George Arthur Churchill Gould will keep generating headlines as he moves from one intriguing investment to another - in some cases serving as an early warning system for other investors to follow.
Ten days ago, his Christchurch investment company, Gould Holdings, announced the purchase of 90 per cent of the mortgage-broking business Mike Pero.
Buying into Pero, Gould's company gets a strong brand, a franchise business model and a business that it believes is nearly ready to step up to list on the stock exchange.
It is 13 months since Gould Holdings pounced on Auckland plastics maker Vertex, the company that burned investors by listing on the sharemarket in 2002 and then, almost immediately, issuing a profit warning.
The image Gould used after the company's second profit warning was that Vertex was like an apple with a bruise.
He still liked the apple.
Today, Gould Holdings holds 19.9 per cent of Vertex, which this week had a market capitalisation of $45 million.
It also has 25 per cent of Designer Textiles - a listed Auckland manufacturer and marketer of knit fabrics with a $28 million market capitalisation - plus other stakes in listed companies that Gould will not disclose.
Gould reports a five-fold gain on the investment in Designer Textiles.
Gould chairs Gould Holdings - John Maasland, the chairman of Carter Holt Harvey, is a director - and is also the chairman of Vertex, Designer Textiles and, now, Mike Pero.
He is also a director of Pyne Gould Corporation, which intends to become a public listed company.
According to Gould, Gould Holdings' portfolio of investments is worth about $30 million. The company also has cash in the bank, but he will not say how much.
Question: How does the Mike Pero company fit with the company's other investments?
Gould's reply: It doesn't fit with textiles or plastics - clearly. But nor do textile and plastics "fit in".
He indicates that a common thread running through the three investments is the belief that Gould Holdings can add value to the investee companies.
Gould says his approach to investing is also long-term - "and I mean long term" ... a phrase which translates into, conceivably, a decade or two.
"I don't get too concerned about an exit strategy. Perhaps that's not wise, but it hasn't caused any problems for us so far - touch wood."
Interviewed, or speaking to shareholders or analysts, Gould is authoritative, clear, convincing.
Facing a photographer for the shot on this page, he is unwilling, almost hostile.
He later says posing for photographs is like giving blood - OK, but not an experience that you want to prolong.
Publicity is useful, however, with speculation that a share float and listing are not so far off for the Mike Pero business.
"We are going to list it, but we can't publicly talk about it too much, because you've got to get the prospectus out first."
His clearest indication of timing: "If we do it, we would probably aim to do it sooner rather than later."
The wider Gould business story goes back to great-great-grandfather George, who emigrated from Kent, England, in 1850 to become a stock agent in Christchurch.
The origins of listed South Island rural services firm Pyne Gould Guinness can be traced back to that early Gould.
George Gould was the managing director of Pyne Gould Guinness from 2001 until October last year, a period that included the company's merger with Reid Farmers.
He said the exit marked a deliberate shift from a long spell of running public companies to instead focusing on "my immediate affairs" through Gould Holdings.
Gould was appointed the chief executive of the listed company Amuri, part-owned by Pyne Gould Corporation, as a 29-year-old.
His education and career before then had run through Christ's College in Christchurch, a year as a jackaroo in the New South Wales outback, a law degree at Canterbury University, a graduate diploma in finance and accounting from the London School of Economics, and an investment banking role with South Pacific Merchant Finance, later part of the National Bank.
Gould rates his career highlight to date as the move by Amuri - later named South-Eastern Utilities - to take over Wairarapa Electricity.
"We were the only non-electricity company to buy a network when the opportunity was there in the nineties. No one else did that.
"That was a very satisfying outcome, to end up with outright ownership of an electricity distribution business, when we were completely outside the sector."
He said it was a "wonderful investment" but South-Eastern was forced to sell because of Max Bradford's "remarkably heavy-handed" electricity reforms.
"For a little company like us, we made about a $50 million profit, which was fairly substantial, but we still saw it as a very disappointing outcome."
As mentors, Gould cites directors Humphry Rolleston, Sir Roderick Weir and the late Sir Peter Elworthy.
Gould Holdings is managed by Gould and accountant Kevin Arscott.
"He's a detail person, I'm a big-picture person," says Gould.
"He's detailed accounting, I'm big-picture legal."
The company is about 60 per cent owned by Gould, with the balance held by members of the wider Gould family or the Rutherfords, a North Canterbury farming family.
Asked how Gould Holdings operates, Gould says: "A typical day for us is that dozens of opportunities wash past our desk. People in the financial markets know that we look to put together deals and we get given opportunities.
"It was in that sort of context that Mike Pero came up."
On the attraction: "What Mike has done, which is very unique, is he has created a brand and an identity - one of the most trusted and recognised names in financial services in New Zealand, which is quite incredible really for what was a one-man company only 10 years ago."
On the attractions of Vertex: "We believed it needed a cornerstone shareholder and it didn't have that.
"It was good at what it did. It had good management.
"Really, the only thing that had gone wrong with Vertex is that a certain amount of 'blue sky' which the previous directors had promised in the prospectus didn't happen. But the core earnings are still there and it's pumping along."
Gould says he bought into Designer Textiles in his own right before the "tech wreck", "when good operating companies were completely out of fashion".
Gould Holdings is run from a modest building on the corner of Gloucester and Cambridge Sts in downtown Christchurch.
Politically, he is a Brashie.
In his private life, he is married with four children.
He is keen on tennis, sailing, skiing, surfing and water-skiing.
The original jackaroo blue blood.
About 60% of Gould Holdings, which owns:
90% of Mike Pero Mortgages
25% of Designer Textiles
19.9% of Vertex Group
Minority stake in Pyne Gould Corporation, which owns:
55% of Pyne Gould Guinness
100% of Marac Finance
100% of Perpetual Trust