The last, and only other time, I met Martin Snedden he was Mr Rugby World Cup, although the event was then still three years away. I suggested that by the end of it he'd either be a saint or in the sewer. He agreed that there was no middle ground. As we now know it all went swimmingly and so he ought to have achieved sainthood. What he actually did was go on to be Mr Tourism (the head of the Tourism Industry Association) and to do cricket things (as a delegate to the International Cricket council; he's a former chief executive of NZ Cricket and, of course, a former test player.) And now, on the day I saw him for lunch this week, 10 days into his new job as the chief executive of Duco Events.
I thought I owed him a lunch because the last time I wrote about him I said that he had no friends. His response to this was to send me pictures of him with fairly famous people, at dos, who were patently not friends. He can be very funny but you have to listen carefully to pick up that he is. He has a fairly glum, faintly Eeyorish face which gives little away. He can come across as gruff.
But he is the easiest of people to take out for lunch. He just had what I had and he had two glasses of wine, which hardly anyone ever does these days. I was later told that if you "get a couple of beers in him" he loosens up, but the wine had no discernible effect. Actually, he did pat my arm when I left which for him might pass as a bear hug.
He does come across as gruff, and a bit cross when you ask, as I did, why he's taken up with Duco Events. Duco are David Higgins and Dean Lonergan who are boxing and rugby league and celebrity events. I once described them as the modern day equivalent of the Ringling Brothers, which they didn't appear to object to. They are, said the new CEO, volatile and creative and clever and "they have quite a bit of courage". I am not the first person to ask him about this. I may be the first person to say: You don't even get an office! "So what?" he said. He's Mr Rugby World Cup! He didn't say: so what? to that, but he looked it. I wondered whether this, by comparison, was a small job and he said: "No! It's a good job."
What I was getting at is that the Duco lads are showmen and he is the very antithesis of a showman. He was a lawyer in the Snedden family business (his brother Dave is my lawyer but being a bit slow I didn't make the connection until recently) before cricket took over. But he is still lawyerish. In other words he is careful and considered and I know he is introspective and shy because he told me so last time we met. I had a call from the Duco media wrangler the day after the lunch and he asked how their new CEO had been. Oh, you can't shut him up, I said. He'd talk your ear off. Really? he said, incredulously. No, I was making it up, I said. And I was. He does talk, he's a good talker, actually, and a thoughtful one, but you'd never call him garrulous.
I can guess just what he's doing at his little desk in the Duco offices: Looking and listening and forming his views, very quietly. He has, obviously, a laptop but he also writes screeds of notes out in hand on sheets of paper. Who still does that? I said. "I do," he said. He is quite old-fashioned, in some ways including being, he said: "an absolutely middle-of-the-road Conservative." He is from a large, close-knit, rowdy, Catholic family of four brothers and a sister; he is the youngest.
Snedden says he is fond of hoarding things. Photo / Greg Bowker
He goes to church every Sunday. I asked what his God was like and he said: "He's a good bloke. He might have been an All Black, or a Black Cap." He has been married to Annie, a lawyer who is now a school teacher, for 35 years and they have four kids, three of whom are girls. "So I'm not excessively blokey, any more."
I asked what he thought about girls boxing - in the Fight for Life, Dec 6 - and he said: "I don't actually have any issue with it. If you look at what Millie [Elder-Holmes] and Frankie [Adams] are going to be wearing on the night, in terms of headgear and gloves, they're not really desperately in danger of each other." Was girls fighting feminism? "I don't think about it on those terms!" He doesn't know anything about boxing, either. "That's all right. I can learn."
Has he ever been to a boxing match? He has. One. The Joseph Parker, Sherman Williams bout in October. Did he enjoy it? "I really enjoyed the evening."
I had a cod psychology theory about why he takes on jobs that look rather unlikely (not to him of course - and I wasn't the first to look at him with, "slanted eyes ... I know what I'm doing") and which involve degrees of public scrutiny when he is shy and an introvert. He had a horrid time, for some years, after he acquired one of those records, since surpassed, which cricket fans never forget: The most runs, 105, hit off his bowling in a one day international. He was only 25 and, he said: "You know, that affected me for quite a long time. I took chances again ... but I was just in a hopeless state of mind ... I think it probably taught me that the best way out of these things is just to get stuck in and you know ... you've got no guarantees but if you stick at it, you've got a decent chance".
My cod psychology theory was that he does hard things, that have a chance of public failure, because he still thinks he has to prove himself, publicly. He said that when he became CEO of NZ Cricket, "I realised that if I was going to survive in that environment, I had to evolve my personality to be really open to engagement rather than to fight against it. Because, one, I would lose, and secondly, I wouldn't enjoy it." Which is a sort of answer. Another might be that a big part of the reason he was attracted to the Duco job was because he is interested in the idea of being involved in forming the career of the young boxer, Joseph Parker. "I understand completely the process of a talented young athlete ... and trying to maximise the potential and that we want to help him get to the top. There are no guarantees, but he may have some chance. And that area is something I know well."
He said: "I think my wife is probably more honest with me - until this particular conversation! - than anyone, in telling me about my character."
He had told me that, from time to time, his wife may have had occasion to tell him to "pull his head in" a bit.
He might have gone a bit big-headed after the Rugby World Cup. He might even had a reasonable expectation that there would be an opportunity for a bit of swaggering. He did expect that "the country would be basking in the glow for months". But there was an election and people moved on and "so we sat in Wellington feeling quite lonely!" And the office had to be packed up and goodbyes said and then he was out of a job. He applied to be chief executive of the Marylebone Cricket Club, which is Lords, and his dream job and made the short list and "do you know? I thought I probably would get that job!" I'll bet he did! He was Mr World Cup! "I was a bit disappointed. Oh, pretty disappointed."
He'd already moved there, in his head. So, so much for the big head.
He is an obsessive character, so in that respect a good fit for Duco. "I think we've got some similarities. We're pretty intense. We're pretty driven." Has there been much shouting yet? "Ha, ha. Well, what I also am, is a referee. I've been refereeing quite a lot in these 10 days. I'm meant to be the glue."
He is also the sandpaper, brought in to smooth the "rough edges". Are there rough edges? "Yes. If you look at those two guys ... they have very strong and independent streaks and what they both recognised is that neither of them have much experience in terms of running a business and running the people who run a business. So I'm the calmness."
He was very thorough, of course, about checking Duco out and when Higgins phoned, out of the blue - they'd never met; he knows Lonergan a bit - and asked if he'd come and run their business, he said: "Well, probably not. But let's have a chat." He was intrigued enough to meet them and then, obviously, further intrigued to the point where he decided to take the job. I think he gets easily bored and I thought the tourism job might have bored him but of course he, diplomatically, said it hadn't but that he did miss the "hurly burly" of the sports business.
I said he was in PR now and he said he certainly was not. "Wrong word." He was wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with advertising! I said: "Which one of them told you you had to wear that?" He laughed and said that Higgins had. He had also suggested that we do the interview at KFC on Queen Street, under a big ad for their new burger which is a big ad for their next Fight for Life event. The new chief executive drew the line at that but good luck to him in the future, I say. These are the guys who once persuaded me to interview a boxer from Belarus who spoke no English.
He said, about being a walking advertisement: "I've spent most of my adult life branded." And: "I quite like polos." That "quite like" is a typical Snedden understatement. He has (or did until recently before packing up to move from Wellington back to Auckland, his hometown) hundreds of the things. "I'm a hoarder. So I've got stuff in plastic that I got when I was playing cricket." Anyway, the Nines: "It's a good event! Did you go? Will you be going this year?"
See, he is in PR. He laughed and said: "Well, I guess there's an element of PR, but it's just wrapped up in everything else." And that is probably a better assessment of his character, and his career, than anything I could manage. It manages to be both succinct and complex. I'll try him on those couple of beers next time.
• The Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines: Jan 31 - Feb 1. Tickets at Ticketek.