Air NZ boss mortified he nearly killed national treasure Bob Jones


Eff off Chris

Last week we covered Bob Jones’ NBR column about how the CEO of Air NZ, Christopher Luxon, nearly saw him off.

Luxon responds this week, mortified he nearly killed Bob Jones:

I was mortified to read last week that I had inadvertently almost killed Sir Bob Jones with my?mindless claptrap and worthless wittering. I was both surprised and dismayed to learn of the damage I had caused. Surprised, because I had assumed that this colossus of New Zealand was made of sterner stuff.? Dismayed, because I am a huge admirer of his.

Sir Bob first came into my consciousness in 1984 when I was 13. No mindless claptrap or mangled mutterings on inequality, infrastructure and national identity for him. He was so dissatisfied with the direction of the country that he pulled down Muldoon?s despotic government handing the election to David Lange?s Labour Party. ?Prosperity and freedom? was his catch cry and he was the catalyst for the much-needed reform to our economy and society that followed. We are all in debt to that great man for having the courage of his convictions and with tremendous apologies to Fred Dagg ?we don?t know how fortunate we were to have that man, we don?t know how propitious were the circumstances?.

Bob Jones did us all a favour by dispatching Robert Muldoon. The reforms that Lange’s government ushered in were necessary and lasting. Not one has been unwound despite successive Labour governments under Helen Clark.

In 1986 and 1987 Sir Bob graced the covers of glossy business magazines. I was in the Fifth & Sixth Form studying economics and he was one of our heroes turning us on to what was possible in the world of business. It was the first time we had seen New Zealanders create immense personal wealth in such a short time. Unfortunately, it all came to a stunningly untidy end. Many of our heroes, the titans of industry-leading the eponymous Corps, crashed and burned. Our corporate role models were exposed as hucksters,?failed property developers, and self-obsessed wheeler-dealers.

We learnt that anyone could make money cutting a deal or clipping the ticket on an investment banking transaction. Harder to find were those able to lead a great company that creates long term commercial, cultural and customer value. The Americans had Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Sam Walton as role models. They built truly valuable, world-class organisations with a mission and purpose bigger than themselves. In contrast, here in New Zealand we had self-interested inebriates running potentially great companies into the ground. Brierley Investments? ownership of Air New Zealand was a perfect example, but I worry I?m wittering again.

My point is that Sir Bob was different. He was infinitely more talented than the egotistical, self-absorbed, incompetents of the late 1980s. The fact he hadn?t called his company Robert Jones Corp probably also helped.

Ahhh…so this is a stab at Jones. Yeah, well it’s easy to compare. How much coin has Christopher Luxon made vs. Bob Jones?

In addition, to fly fishing and punching out journalists, he could write – and do so brilliantly. I first discovered one of his famously acerbic letters in a Seventh Form English mock exam. I found it so hilarious I laughed, loudly and uncontrollably, in the middle of the test. I went out and bought my own copies of ?80s Letters? and ?Wowser Whacking?. They were quite simply brilliant and frankly should be mandated as compulsory texts for all New Zealanders to read. From Sir Bob I discovered others of his ilk like Clive James and Jeremy Paxman and John O?Farrell.

I have a few of Bob Jones’ earlier books, on property investing.

Which brings us to today. I reckon Sir Bob and I just got off on the wrong foot. I?m not quite sure where it all went wrong, but I suspect the whole getting kicked off an Air New Zealand plane for not paying sufficient attention to the safety briefing didn?t help. While they say you should never meet your heroes, I?d be keen and I still like him. Look, he?ll go a bit off-piste from time to time, like your cranky uncle at Christmas, but frankly that?s what makes him one of our genuine living national treasures. We should treat him as such. I certainly don?t take his criticism personally. I figure he just needs to have a rant, take his pills and get a hug occasionally.

But Sir Bob, should we not have an opportunity to meet I make you this promise. I am chastened. I shall strive to communicate more clearly. Conscious that my scarcely coherent ramblings very nearly killed you, I promise to try harder next time.

Yeah, right.