I was born 1949 in Napier, New Zealand, a beautiful art deco city on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is now the center of a major wine growing region, in fact a pioneer of the industry, Church Road Winery is still two doors along the road from my first school, Taradale Primary School.
When I was seven, my family moved north to Whangarei, a small city 180 km north of Auckland, where I went to primary and secondary school, and which is nowadays somewhat famous as the birthplace of singer Keith Urban. I very much enjoyed all my school years and had one or two truly excellent teachers. Many of my friends from those days remain and provide stimulating conversation and other activities; a couple are now permanent Australians, one has been for years at Oxford in England, so communication with them is primarily electronic.
I left home at the age of eighteen and moved to Auckland to further my education. My first real job was in waste water chemistry during which time I completed a polytech degree. Having knuckled down, instead of partying, my results were so good the University of Auckland was persuaded to allow me to enter a degree at final year chemistry. This left a few gaps to fill so I also studied astrophysics and electronic physics, both I still enjoy. But chemistry was and remains my passion. During this time, I worked for around 10 years at the University, and whilst all the learning was fine, it was clear something was lacking, so I resolved to go commercial. One of the first positions I was offered was chief wine maker for one of the largest wine producers in New Zealand. I did not take up the position, and whilst having no regrets, still believe it would have been a fascinating and satisfying role. The role I did take enabled me to interact with a wide range of industries providing chemicals and technology. It was during that time it became clear that understanding technologies provided the best returns from client relationships. My success provided my employer significant returns. This role gave me an excellent grounding in this industry but fter a few years I decided I needed a change and moved into the corporate world. The company I joined as a Product Manager manufactured a range of chemicals for the farming, water treatment, pulp and paper and forestry industries. My brief covered the full range of industrial chemicals, including copper compounds, boron compounds where I had developed and marketed our own spray dried formulation for wood preservation, and chromium compounds. Around that time a small startup company named Chemicca surfaced supplying industry with CCA. I concluded there was a significant overlap, so after initiating an acquisition of the company, I was seconded there to help it flourish, which for a number of years it did. During that time, I privately developed several antisapstain chemicals which I later assigned to the company. At one time we achieved around 80 per cent market share. Tied up in my second patent, these products remain in the market after nearly 40 years.
Before joining the corporation, I had privately developed an organometallic wood preservative based around copper and boron, surprisingly, red in colour. This resulted in my first patent. The corporation agreed it would take over development and began some of the work. Sadly, there was a personality barrier in our R&D section and the project did not progress. It was decided instead to fund a PhD student at the University of Auckland with me as a co-supervisor. Our student, Gillian Horner, was a superb scientist who proved in a matter of a few months, all my previous work. She needed more work so we explored a very wide range of boron chemistry, much novel, including new compounds, resulting in a substantial thesis and a number of peer reviewed papers.
After about a decade with Chemicca I was getting itchy feet, so I convinced corporate management I be given the opportunity to develop offshore markets. The first companies I helped establish were in Malaysia manufacturing arsenic acid and CCA, and marketing these products. Success was swift with profitability in less than 12 months. I was managing director in these companies and subsequently a company in Hong Kong and then a director of a joint venture in Jiangxi province in China manufacturing arsenic acid and CCA.
Despite all the successes, internal politics were making relationships fragile so I was asked to head up all corporate R&D in Australia, or go my own way. The latter had been sitting in the back of my mind for several years so my decision was easy, and pleasantly profitable. Thinking back the R&D job would have become onerous, the company now being one of the leading multinationals in agricultural chemicals. I suspect I would have been too constrained for my liking.
I had reacquired the intellectual property on the copper boron product. Mick Hedley, who sadly passed away about ten years ago, researched the product and concluded it had a significantly low toxic threshold, superior to any he had seen. Despite the relative simplicity of the chemistry and the product’s efficacy, and that I had a provisional approval with the US EPA, the cost of all regulatory processes was too much for my pocket, so the project was allowed to lapse.
I had started Mattersmiths, initially merely doing research because of an onerous restraint of trade. During this time, I went back to university to complete a post graduate diploma in business. Shortly thereafter I launched a surprise attack on the antsapstain market in New Zealand securing the majority of big customers, and many small as well. My patented products were ‘second to none’ and whilst giving clients value for money, were also very profitable. My various antisapstain products have been used in New Zealand, Chile, South Korea, Australia, Portugal, Indonesia and others.
After a few years Tony Bergevoet joined me and we had a pretty good period of existence in the market. But Tony moved on to Lonza, so I continued on my own. During the Mattersmiths period, we secured many patents ranging from pure chemistry to high-power RF and high-power microwave physics. After Tony departed, I was very privileged to receive an invitation from one of my earlier professors to become an “honourary academic associate”, working in his large modern laboratory at the university. He applied no constraints to my research other than to maintain correct HSE guidelines.
Then came another turning point. Osmose, who had acquired Chemicca, approached me with a view to buying all I had developed. It so transpired, and again I was out on my own. This time with an even more lengthy “holiday” period. This prevented any activity in wood preservation, but did not stop the thinking process. That is now years ago, but I still maintain a keen interest in wood preservation. In fact, over the years, I have provided expert witness in many intellectual property issues, and some in the market itself.
But being again free, I established other companies under the Matterworks umbrella. These hold a range of intellectual properties, still under development. Throughout those years I had become a named inventor of perhaps more than 30 patents. Many have now expired and some are even difficult to find in the archives. Others may well arise in future.
However, and in principle being retired, I should have reined myself in – but that does not work for me. I now have research projects ranging from control of pest species such as rabbits, possums and stoats, to a project at the University of Auckland medical school. Products for wood are also still on the back burner. More recently I have taken a keen interest in chemistry to mitigate CO2 emissions. No promises yet on that one. For the past 5 years I have taken a keen interest in the relatively new science of epigenetics, less from a biology perspective but more from chemistry/biochemistry, in particular in relationship to natural compounds. In addition, I have been working on a new idea to enhance motor/inverter technology for electric vehicles. Again, one of those “we’ll see” ideas.
Over many years extracurricular activities have included surfing, scuba diving, skiing and half marathons, speleology even.
My partner, Lyn, and I have been together for more than 44 years, harking back to working at the university. We have three lovely granddaughters with whom we share much time. We still walk/tramp/cycle. Eight years ago, I had become so frustrated with the rainy winters of Auckland, we decided to buy a house in the South of France. This was for many reasons; beautiful scenery, truly beautiful blue skies, no rain, new language, different food and wine, new friends. Despite summer temperatures there up to mid-40’s we still walk and cycle regularly. Sadly, CoVid has changed that, but hopefully not forever.
My first IRG conference was in 1982. I have attended many since. In fact, in some of the earlier years Lyn and Tony Bergevoet’s wife, Judith, became impromptu social event organisers, very successfully. These days the social events are truly well organised and thoroughly enjoyed by all. I also joined the IRG executive for a few years. These days as a life member, I maintain a low profile, but having said that, it is really enjoyable to catch up with old friends, some of whom were still students when first met. IRG is a wonderful organization and has provided me and many others with long lasting memories and friendships.
This bio was written for the February 2021 IRG Newsletter.