BOOKCASE: Doing Well & Doing Good

•By S.R.H. Jones
• Otago University Press
• RRP: $49.95

The lessons of history are always there for the learning. So it is with the story of the rise and fall of Dunedin-based woollen goods retailer and manufacturer Ross & Glendining.
It’s an intriguing tale of two very different but determined Scottish immigrants who hightailed it to New Zealand in the early 1860s in time to catch the pickings of the deep south’s gold rush days.
John Ross and Robert Glendining were drapers by training who, despite their personality differences, worked well enough together to build one of the country’s largest manufacturing enterprises on the coattails of their original drapery importing business.
Business historian SRH Jones has painstakingly pieced together the managerial and personal stories of two men and their families which serves, as much as anything, to prove that people and their personalities are what make an enterprise tick. Sober-minded and conservative Ross and his rather more rambunctious partner Glendining envisioned and established thriving enterprise.
The other lessons contained in this 100-year account of commercial enterprise and endeavour, companies of today need to learn. You see, some things never really change. Ross and Glendining died because its second generation of managers and directors failed to adapt and change to marketplace in which it first thrived but, finally slid into irrelevance.
Before the founders disappeared however, and despite their manifestly contrasting philosophies of life, they contributed more than just business employing at its zenith over 2000 people. They were wealthy and hard working and contributed generously to the Dunedin community and beyond. The religious Ross, for example, funded the construction of the city’s Knox College. Glendining, on the other hand, gifted the Dunedin Botanic Gardens’ winter garden.
This is tidy tale of the fortunes of home-grown company that paralleled the changing nature of New Zealand’s 19th and 20th century economies and the emergence of the country’s once vibrant manufacturing sector. Doing Well & Doing Good is, above all, an object lesson on management’s need to comprehend and adapt to change or, fall victim to its relentless progress.

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