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Obituary: Sir Rod Weir, business giant who was always at home on the farm

type
Article
author
By Lesley Donaldson
date
15 Dec 2021
read time
4 min to read
Sir Rod Weir on his farm standing next to a tractor

Sir Rod Weir on his farm in Waikanae in 2008. Photo credit: Craig Simcox/ Stuff

Rod Weir DistFInstD, who has died aged 94, started his career as an office junior at the age of 15 with the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Company, a prominent stock and station agency in Wanganui. Forty years later he had negotiated the merger of two major companies, Dalgety and Wrightson, to become one of the largest rural companies in New Zealand.

He was a self-made man who made a fateful decision in 1963 to pursue his dream of owning his own business and doing things his way. With few resources, but possessing a charismatic personality and a shrewd assessment of the world, he made a go of it and became a well-known part of the New Zealand business community. Despite his rise to prominence in Wellington boardrooms, however, he was always at home in a paddock, chewing on a blade of grass and talking with the “cow-cockies” about their heifers.

A young Rod Weir at the Manawatū A&P show in Palmerston North in November 1946.

A young Rod Weir at the Manawatū A&P show in Palmerston North in November 1946.

He joked that his first job’s main duty was “trying to balance the stamp book”. Despite his lack of skills initially, he was promoted many times over a few years. He was a livestock manager in Ōtaki, a stock and station agent in Levin, and a manager of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency (which merged with Dalgety & Co). He was the youngest manager in Dalgety history.

He had to teach himself how to be an auctioneer when he lived in Ōtaki, and would drive out to Waitārere Beach, where he was on his own, and practise. He became an accomplished auctioneer and was often called upon for charity events. He developed deep roots with the Horowhenua farming community when he lived in Levin and Ōtaki, which remained with him until his death.

Rod Weir as a young auctioneer at the Dannevirke bull fair in October 1956.

Rod Weir as a young auctioneer at the Dannevirke bull fair in October 1956.

On May 4, 1963, he made a decision that changed his life. He resigned from his secure job at Dalgety in Wellington and started Rod Weir & Co. He was 34, had a 10-year-old daughter, Lesley (this author), and a mortgage. It was a risk – no independent new stock and station agency had been established for decades.

But his wife, Loys​, unequivocally supported him and together they began a new phase of their lives. He started the company with £15,000 from the sale of his house in Paremata. The day after the inception of Rod Weir & Co, he sold 17 black and white heifers for £34.

He had people who believed in him (directors Frank Bushell and Cuthbert Hogg, in particular) and were valuable mentors. Rod Weir & Co storefronts became a familiar sight throughout the North Island as it grew.

Sir Rod Weir in December 1999 with Dean Michael Brown of the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Wellington. Weir was chairman of the campaign to raise funds for the cathedral’s extension in time for the millennium.

Sir Rod Weir in December 1999 with Dean Michael Brown of the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Wellington. Weir was chairman of the campaign to raise funds for the cathedral’s extension in time for the millennium. Photo credit: Martin Hunter/Stuff

A decade later, the company had a turnover of $9 million, 100 staff and eight branches, which finally numbered more than 4400 staff and 140 branches from Whangārei to Invercargill.

Loys was an enormous asset to him. She was a warm and gracious hostess, and supported his endeavours in every possible way. In the parlance of the 60s, she was the woman behind the successful man, and contributed immensely to his success.

In 1973 Rod Weir & Co became part of Newton King, its subsidiary Gisborne Sheep Farmers, and the Hawke’s Bay partnership de Pelichet McLeod & Co. The Newton King group became Crown Consolidated. In 1983 Weir bought Dalgety’s New Zealand for $108m. He had gone from being Dalgety’s Wellington manager in 1960, to owning the company.

Sir Ron Trotter, left, and Sir Ron Weir in 1986, discussing the final points of the merger of Wrightson and Dalgety, creating one of New Zealand’s largest rural companies.

Sir Ron Trotter, left, and Sir Ron Weir in 1986, discussing the final points of the merger of Wrightson and Dalgety, creating one of New Zealand’s largest rural companies. Photo credit: Stuff

In 1986 he negotiated his largest merger (one of many), with Sir Ron Trotter. Dalgety and Wrightson merged, with each company having assets of more than $300m.

In 1984 he received a knighthood for his services to farming, commerce and the community. Because Loys was dealing with cancer at that time, governor-general Sir David Beattie invited the family to a private ceremony at Government House.

He was appointed the government representative for the NZ Apple and Pear Marketing Board in the 1980s and served the industry with understanding and commitment. He chaired the Massey University Business and Property Trust, and served as a trustee of the NZ Institute of Economic Research. In 2002 he was made a distinguished fellow of the Institute of Directors.

Sir Rod Weir with wife Loys at his knighthood investiture at Government House in 1984.

Sir Rod Weir with wife Loys at his knighthood investiture at Government House in 1984.

His private directorships included Sun Alliance Insurance, Amuri Corporation, Sherwood Mercantile, McKechnie Pacific, and he was vice chairman of Rangitira. He was made an honorary doctor of science by Massey University, and was a laureate of the Business Hall of Fame.

Weir lived a long life, and a new chapter began after Loys died in 1984. It was a devastating blow. In 1986, he married Anna Peacock. Both had had spouses who had died, and together they started a new life. They built a home in Waikanae on 30 acres, where they entertained and could both pursue their interests, Anna with horses and Rod with a hobby farm of sheep and cattle.

He was a lot of fun and had a mischievous streak. He believed in working hard and playing hard. He often got into trouble. He had a lifelong love of cars, but treated them with nonchalance. One was lost while driving too close to the water on one of the many beaches he liked to drive on.

He was cavalier about the clothes he wore on the farm, and shoes and socks were disliked, no matter who the company. He was a sociable and engaging man. However, he enjoyed nothing more than stirring the pot at a dinner party with provocative statements that would incite outrage and animated discussion. He would then sit back and enjoy the furore.

He was a believer in the importance of contributing to society, and this he did generously and with flair. His style was very much in the flavour of 1960s New Zealand, chatting with neighbour Ron Trotter over the fence, with a blade of grass in his mouth.

He leaves behind his wife Anna, daughter Lesley, grandson Jason and his wife Giorgia, great-grandson Leonardo, sister Gillian, dear friend Enid and many others, all of whom will miss him greatly.


Republished with permission from Stuff: Obituary: Sir Rod Weir, business giant who was always at home on the farm

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