A Natural Businessman

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Every six months or so, Rodney Green asks himself a question he has earned every right to ask. He thinks about retirement from what has been a frenetic and focused business life, and asks,

“Is it about time?” And every six months or so, no matter what pressuring commercial hurdles he has to overcome, he answers,

“no, not yet.” Rodney has astutely built and bought businesses and enjoyed every part of a hardworking business journey that began when he was 11 years old. “I’m a hands- on person. I could sit back now but no,” he smiled.

Business acumen, an eye for the right deal at the right time, and just plain putting in the hours and working hard is Napier businessman and philanthropist Rodney Green’s simple, and some would say natural, approach to being successful in life. The more you talk with Rodney the more you begin to accept that maybe he is (in business terms) a natural.

Rodney really doesn’t give it much thought, except to use two words that emerge again and again in conversation. Hard work. He was adamant that anyone with the right focus and unwavering determination could fulfil their dreams and enjoy the fruits of success, and that Napier, with its vibrant economy, was the ideal platform to launch them from.
His own steely determination is laced with occasionally self-depreciating humour.

Rodney doesn’t go in for fancy titles. When asked what his working title was he leaned back and laughed. “I don’t think I’ve got one. I write ‘company director’ down as an occupation if I’m leaving the country.”

These days Rodney runs the impressive Bluewater Hotel, an accommodation gem on the Ahuriri waterfront “I love it,” he confessed, and talked about the ongoing refinement of what is already a magnet for visitors to the city He pointed out the area where an upmarket miniature golf course is about to be built overlooking the sparkling waters of the inner harbour, as well as a planned new canopied outdoor area which will comply with new smoking regulations. Then added that he was also in the process of developing what was previously a sprawling motel in suburban Onekawa into affordable apartments. “I’ve also got some shareholdings in some other companies – it keeps me active,” he said with a smile.

The focus has never dimmed since he first began working in a small butchers shop in Napier, after school as a keen 11 year old “washing up and making sausages.” He knew exactly what he wanted to do from that age. “When I was 16 I knew I wasn’t going to get my School Certificate. I said to my mother don’t waste the entry fee. I had decided by then that I wanted to be a butcher.” He left school (his mother insisting not to until he was 16) and went to work in the small suburban butchery.

Rodney went through the apprenticeship, became qualified, but in 1967 as he was about to turn 20 decided on a career change. “I became a baker…three years making pies,” he said. The money was good, and he was mindful of the wise words of his mother and grandmother as they often related an old proverb ‘look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves’. He saved and accordingly prospered, to the stage where after having a beer one time with a friend in the real estate business, Norm Johnston, who also became something of a mentor, he borrowed and put the deposit on a modest house in Napier South. “I was working at the bakery, starting at midnight and then during the day I’d be working on doing the house up. I was working 18 hour days and I loved it”

At only 20 years old Rodney was already a landlord after putting in tenants. “I saved everything, and every six months I’d put a deposit down and buy a house. Some I did up and sold, some I put in tenants.” By the time he was 30 he had 41 flats and houses.

Asked what was motivating him he sat back and laughed. “God only knows. I just enjoyed what I was doing. It was the enjoyment of achievement.” At one stage though, when he was about 23, he packed his bags and headed for Australia with the intention of staying there indefinitely and making his fortune. “But I came back after three months and went to work in a supermarket”.

Within a short time he had worked his way up to manager. In that position Rodney got a firm financial and entrepreneurial grip on how businesses were run and of profits and losses. After three years he saw the potential in creating his own style of butchery business, and bought what had been a one, sometimes two-man butchery.

Re-branding it Napier Discount Meats, and after an astute and somewhat pioneering use of advertising and marketing, the butchery quickly grew to an operation that, at its peak, employed 20 staff. It was simply another example of his down-to-earth philosophy of “just work hard and give it your best shot”.

That led in to the business which Rodney helped propel to national status, Medallion Foods. The meat company had been established for about a year when he was invited to join the fledgling business by Darryl and Suzanne Raisey. “I thought okay, let’s have a go.” There were four staff when Rodney joined. Years later, when he left the firm, there were more than 100 employees and its turnover was in the millions. They were intensive but rewarding years, although Rodney has no regrets about getting out when he did. “I got out when I was 51. I started (in the meat business) when I was 11 so that’s 40 years. I figured I’d done my time.”

A new business direction awaited. His move into the hospitality industry was effectively sparked by his brother Clinton, who was then managing Napier Discount Meats.
The years working in a chilled environment had begun to play havoc with Clinton’s arms as arthritis began making its aching presence felt. He told Rodney he wanted out, and that he wanted to pursue an ambition to go into the hospitality industry.

The opportunity to do that came after a couple of neighbouring houses to his Kennedy Road property came up for sale. Clinton bought them, and Rodney became more interested in the concept of establishing a high quality motel, so the brothers went into partnership.

An opportunity then presented itself to take over the Bluewater Hotel which included the newly-built 45-room hotel complex. It would prove to be another astute move. “I would describe myself as an extremely good purchaser. I don’t particularly like selling things though.”

Rodney leased the bar and restaurant and worked on raising the profile of the 45-unit motel, which he is now justifiably proud of. “It’s really gone ahead. In fact the Ahuriri area has really gone ahead.” The whole Napier environment appeals to Rodney. He describes it as his comfort zone. “I’m pretty conservative. I take a holiday and go away overseas but I always love to land back in Napier.”

His love of the city has led him to step in as a major financial contributor to the city and the region, through his huge support of sport and recreation. The spectacular Pettigrew Green Arena in Taradale is testimony to his generosity and desire to put something into the community “I didn’t get to see much sport during all those early busy years,” he said. “I’m making up for it now” With a smile, he said his first foray into sports sponsorship was after enjoying a social evening at the Pirates club in Napier during the years he was working in the butchery trade. “I liked the people and I liked that sporting environment” Club stalwart Alan Rowden asked if he would be interested in providing some sponsorship and after giving it thought he decided he would. “I think the first sponsorship package was six kilos of sausages.” Rodney’s sponsorship of Pirates is still strong today.

Rodney has also enjoyed a long relationship with the city’s blue ribbon football club, Napier City Rovers, and became a respected and valued part of the club’s business and social set up. The general manager of Napier City Rovers, at the time Rodney began his sponsorship, was Colin Stone, who later left to take up the role as the chief executive officer of Sport Hawke’s Bay.

Having reached the half-century milestone in his life Rodney had made the decision to do something ‘special’ for Napier. “Because I love the place.” The something special was a $1 million funding injection into the McLean Park Trust which had been formed. It was essentially targeted for the planned refurbishment of the Centennial Hall, but after meetings with Colin, and the EIT’s (Eastern Institute of Technology) chief executive Bruce Martin, and after consultation with the Napier City Council and the McLean Park Trust, he moved a large parcel of funding to the proposed new arena at Taradale.

“I saw it as the catalyst to get it (the project) going with others – I was seeding money to inspire others,” he said.

With the stadium now playing a vital part in the region’s sporting and recreational activities, Rodney has again turned his attention to the Centennial Hall where refurbishment is under way. “It is back on the boil again. It is still an important venue. I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people enjoy these venues, it’s great”

Rodneys own recreational pursuits are ones he likes to share with friends. If there’s a major rugby match on in Wellington he’ll gather a few together and they’ll drive south to the stadium in style. “I always wanted a stretched limousine.” So he went looking and found a very stretched Lincoln Continental which is eye catching with a capital E. “I also like to take the boat out,” he says of the huge luxury launch that dominates the seascape of the inner harbour. “So life’s not all hard work these days.” He does not see what he has achieved as exceptional. Successful, but not exceptional. Because it came naturally. “If you work hard and save the surplus you make you can achieve. It is discipline.”





Author: Roger Moronev

Images: Richard Brimer

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