While frantically climbing the ladder of success in the corporate world, it is easy to get swept up in the hype and forget who has looked after us and who we need to look after. One man who has not forgotten his duty as a Kiwi and gives tirelessly to the community, while still being an extremely successful businessman, is Sir Peter Leitch, aka the Mad Butcher.
In my years of flying for both business and leisure I have sat next to some interesting characters. Business people from all walks, tourists, politicians, off-duty pilots, even All Whites coach Ricki Herbert. But few conversations compete with the one I had sitting next to The Mad Butcher this week on an Air New Zealand flight.
Butch, as friends know him, is a larger-than-life character and everyone’s his mate. Everywhere he goes people stop to say hello, ask about his health, ask about the Warriors, or thank him for the meat pack, game tickets or charitable donation he recently made. In the two hours I spent flying with Butch this week, I learnt more about business than any coach could sell me.
You see, Sir Peter likes to keep things simple – a lost art these days. He told me that the most important assets in life are “reputation and credibility” and you must operate “with integrity and honesty because people can see straight through bullsh*t". That’s why he gives all the money from his speaking engagements to charity, and why when he throws a charity event not a cent of it is kept to cover costs – even if that means he has top it up himself.
I met The Mad Butcher in 2006 when ‘A Mad Business’ – a TV show where Sir Peter and Mike Morton (then CEO, now owner of the Mad Butcher franchise) mentored small business owners around New Zealand – featured my then fledgling company SublimeNZ. Some of the advice he has given me since has really helped guide my decisions in business, and I hope they resonate with some of you as well.
His favourite line whenever I have a harebrained investment idea, is, “mate, you can’t have what you can’t afford”. That has to be the most important lesson anyone in business can learn. He buys everything with cash and always has. (I can vouch for this; you should have seen him empty his pockets for the metal detectors!) His business expansion was fueled by turnover and by living within his means, not through bank loans or over-extending himself with debt. He made the point that, while still running his multi-million-dollar business, he was driving an old Hilux.
Sir Peter doesn’t care much for what he calls “ponsy wankers” (had we not met through the TV show, he probably wouldn’t have liked me much, I guess) and especially sales people. He believes the most important people in your life are those who look after you, and vice versa. He hates people who backstab, or worse, those who lie. He is proud of having been rated one of the most trustworthy figures in New Zealand and works hard to keep it that way.
During our conversation, Butch discussed his next charity event with enthusiasm. It’s confidential for now, but the idea is to raise funds for a young lady who has had a terrible accident so that she can get treatment overseas. To give you an idea of how the man operates, mid conversation he stops to make a phone call to some of his Warriors contacts, and talks them into speaking at this event free-of-charge. He then takes another call, this time from the function room management, who offer him a special rate, which I couldn’t believe; I know what these places normally charge. I ran some quick numbers and he’s set to raise many tens of thousands for this worthy cause.
Sir Peter Leitch is a powerhouse who started life as a butcher’s apprentice in Wellington and is now a Kiwi icon, who built one of the largest privately owned companies in New Zealand. He gives generously to charity and the community, has time for everyone, is a champion of the blue-collar worker, of league, good times, and meat. He is as anti-corporate as they come, yet founded a corporation that most of us would dream of, even if the business isn't “sexy” – his words.
What’s the lesson? I think we all need to be a bit more like Butch. Smart phones, suits and fancy cars don't make us good people or replace integrity. The best house or biggest pay packet should not be the telltales of success. To be truly successful in life, and business, you need to look after those around you, be humble and act with integrity. My tip, let’s all be a bit more like The Mad Butcher.