Chasing cool clothes and fast bikes
Money for money’s sake has never been the goal, says high-flyer
I never wanted to become a prisoner to money or get in the situation — particularly in my 50s — where I had to [stay] somewhere just for the money.
‘Traditionally I’ve been very poor with money,” says Rob Fyfe. “Even though I worked for a bank for a long period of time. They didn’t let me anywhere near the people that were actually lending the money.”
He’s sort of joking, sort of not. Clearly, the former Air New Zealand chief executive, executive director for Icebreaker and venture capital investor has done alright.
He’s saved hard since he was a child and doesn’t much like debt, but says he has only recently started to think more about savvy investment.
“I was so busy at Air NZ I didn’t have time to think about what to do with my money,” he says on the Money Talks Podcast.
“All my money was sitting in my cheque account.”
Since then he’s had a bit more time to think and is better with money. “I’ve probably got a slightly too high risk appetite . . . I’m always ambitious and quite competitive.”
Which is to say he now invests where his passion and interests lie.
A lot of the focus in the past few years has been on smart New Zealand start-ups — like high-tech engineering firm Hammerforce.
But he admits he’s even put a bit into cryptocurrencies.
“I find investing exciting,” he says, noting that he’s often motivated by wanting to learn about the thing he’s investing in. “I think it’s the engineer in me.”
Fyfe says he’s not anti-debt, “but I haven’t had any debt for 30 years, I haven’t had a mortgage for 30 years.”
He has a credit card but has a direct credit to pay off the balance every month.
“Money has never been a goal in and of itself so I’ve never been drawn to leverage,” he says.
“But if the right opportunity came along and I needed to take a mortgage out on the house to do that, it wouldn’t faze me.”
“When I took [the job] at Air NZ, and this has been true all the way through my career, I’ve never ever negotiated my salary when I’ve gone into a job.
“The negotiation around salary was: if you underpay me then someone is going to come along and offer me more and you’ll lose me. And if you overpay me you’re not doing a service to your shareholders. So it’s up to you to figure out what to pay me.”
Fyfe says one of the driving forces behind his career choices has been avoiding the trap he feels his father fell into. “When my dad was coming up to the late 50s he was basically a prisoner to the company he worked for . . . he wasn’t particularly happy in his job but he was part of a pension scheme. He wasn’t enjoying it but he couldn’t afford to leave,” he says.
“So it really instilled in me that I never wanted to become a prisoner to money or get in the situation — particularly in my 50s — where I had to [stay] somewhere just for the money.”
Fyfe talks about his childhood growing up in Christchurch and how a passion for motorbikes and cool clothes instilled him with a strong work ethic.
The closest the former Air NZ chief and RNZAF flight commander ever got to international travel in those days was the family fish and chip night.
“We’d all jump in the car and go out and park at the end of Christchurch airport and watch the planes take off and land. And eat our fish and chips. And that was my Friday night memory for years.”
He started working at age 9 or 10 and used to go and pick strawberries or raspberries as a holiday job.
The famously stylish Fyfe has always had an eye on fashion.
“Even back then if I wanted nice clothes I had to pay for them myself,” he says.
“Mum would knit us jerseys and make clothes but if you wanted anything fashionable or cool . . . you had to pay for it yourself. So my early money probably went on clothes if anything.
“I desperately wanted a motorbike the day I turned 15. So I started at 14, my dad got me a job in an injection moulding factory — the machine I was on made the little blue stoppers that would go in a flagon of beer.”
He worked 12-hour days through all his holidays as a 14-year-old.
“So the day I turned 15 I bought the motorbike and it was a pretty cool experience.”
After that he had an after-school job as a wool scourer.
“I’d finish school at 3pm and I’d bike across town to the wool scour and work from 4pm to 11pm and I’d do that three or four times week.
“That work ethic got drilled into me early.”