BOOKCASE : The Myers

• Paul Goldsmith and Michael Bassett
• David Ling Publishing • $49.99

The Myers is co-authored by Michael Bassett, respected historian-politician turned new-right zealot and Paul Goldsmith, best known for campaign biography of Don Brash that praised the ex-National party leader’s humanity, unflappability, and his honesty and integrity.
Bassett had previously written of commissioned biographies of the living: “Their purpose is usually obvious. Often it is the glorification of the subject – political campaign biography perhaps, or soft study of some celebrity suggested by publishing house with profit in mind.”
While The Myers is unashamedly sponsored family story, and one that concentrates mainly on Douglas Myers, the sponsor, it is, nevertheless, valuable book given the dearth of business histories in New Zealand.
The Myers tells the story of two Jewish families, the Myers and Ehrenfrieds, whose origins were in Wielkopolska, now western Poland, and who migrated to Australia in the 1850s. During the next decade both families moved to New Zealand where marriages and business brought them together.
Neither family left Europe because of poverty or prejudice; pioneering spirit seems to have been the main motivator. Bassett, who takes the story up to 1926, writes:
“They were devout but liberal Jews, intelligent, well educated by the standards of the time, and the inheritors, particularly on the Ehrenfried side, of entrepreneurial aspiration.”
The first part of The Myers looks at the two families’ European origins, the beer brewing business in Thames that laid the foundations of their combined fortunes, and how the entrepreneurial mantle passed from Louis Ehrenfried to Douglas’ grandfather Sir Arthur Myers who built up Campbell and Ehrenfried’s interests in hotels, breweries and the import of spirits. Later, he became popular Auckland mayor and minister of finance in Thomas Mackenzie’s short-lived Liberal administration.
The second part, authored by Paul Goldsmith, is largely devoted to detailed recounting of Douglas Myers’ restoration of the family’s fortunes. His father, Sir Kenneth Myers, by inclination the ‘English gentleman’ and disdainful of beer brewing, and married to Scots woman, poured more energy into the long-term chairmanship of South British Insurance than Campbell and Ehrenfried.
Like his father, Doug Myers was educated at Caius College, Cambridge. Initially unwilling to live and work in New Zealand, in 1972 he revealed streak of ruthlessness reflecting his Ehrenfried ancestry, with his controversial takeover of Campbell and Ehrenfried. This resulted in family angst and court cases, but also led to his successful but risky bid to take total control of Lion, formerly New Zealand Breweries in 1981.
All this, later Australian business coups, and his involvement with the Business Roundtable, is told, mostly uncritically, from Myers’ perspective, with supporting cast of rich and sometimes famous friends and colleagues.

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