Analysis – Prominent retired businessman Sir Ron Brierley’s guilty plea to possession of child sex abuse images is the final fall from grace of a clinical corporate raider who operated on both sides of the Tasman for decades.
Having honed his skills in the 1970s, Brierley’s self-named investment company set about finding suitable targets.
It looked for the lame, the tired, the old, and the defenceless companies that were undervalued, underperforming, and ripe for taking.
Brierley Investments would make an offer that few chose to ignore. Having secured a prize it would then look to “add value” – more often than not through restructuring, taking out costs, dismemberment, asset sale, and then selling the core or rump of the target.
In the space of two decades, Brierley Investments had played with Air New Zealand, Dominion Breweries, New Zealand News (publishers of the now defunct Auckland and Christchurch Stars), Sky City Entertainment, New Zealand Insurance, Australia’s Fairfax Holdings, Rothmans, Britain’s Thistle Hotel chain, and the UK investment bank Guiness Peat.
On top of that it operated through offshore based Industrial Equities and Industrial Equity Pacific, which acquired stakes in various property, investment, industrial, and oil and gas assets in Australia, Asia, US, UK, and Europe.
At its height, hundreds of thousands of small retail shareholders flocked to the various companies, rewarded with rising dividends and bonus shares issues. No self respecting share club in the 1980s was without a holding of Brierley Investment shares.
The 1987 sharemarket crash marked the end of the golden investing weather and with it the lucrative deals that provided windfall profits. The deals became harder, the returns smaller, the takeover rules tighter.
By 2001, he had severed his links with Brierley Investments, then under the control of Singaporean interests. His last public corporate fling was an unsuccessful tilt for Wellington’s faded and failed posh-shop Kirkcaldie and Staines in 2016.
Brierley’s private life rarely drew comment beyond his love of cricket, stamp collecting, and occasional support for the arts, including the New Zealand Ballet.
There had always been speculation and gossip, and a biography raised the prospect that on his trips to Thailand he had contact with young sex workers.
Once the feared corporate raider, Brierley now awaits the judgment and sentence of a Sydney court.