GREG Mulvey shies away from the word “legacy”, but after 40 years with the Invercargill Licensing Trust there’s no doubt he leaves one behind.
General manager of the trust since 1987, Mr Mulvey’s final act last Friday before officially retiring was to chair a New Zealand Licensing Trust Association meeting at the Ascot Park Hotel.
Mr Mulvey’s leadership era will be etched into the trust’s history books as one of success during a time of major societal change and, at times, economic turbulence.
Sorting countless files as he prepared to hand over the reins to new chief executive Chris Ramsay had sparked some “memory-lane moments” for Mr Mulvey.
“There’s just been so many things – as you’d expect in a dynamic business. Everything has changed during my time. There’s no one business that has remained the same – we’ve either developed new businesses or substantially altered and redeveloped others,” he said.
“There’s been so many challenges over that time – it’s been really exciting.”
Hailed nationally for its commitment to the responsible sale and supply of sensitive products, the trust’s commercial operations have thrived under Mr Mulvey’s astute management, enabling unrivalled funding contributions for a plethora of community groups and projects.
“I’ve always said there’s two distinct parts to this business,” Mr Mulvey said. “One is firstly making sure you plan and manage a successful commercial operation. That has to come first and, if you achieve that objective, it enables the trust to achieve the other side of the coin, which is maximising its community contribution. The two are inextricably linked.
“There’s been so many community projects that have run off the commercial side of the enterprise. One of the greatest examples is the conception of ILT Stadium Southland, which happened in our board room and then we started the journey to make it a reality.”
From electronic whiteboards in schools and the ILT Learn to Swim programme for Invercargill youngsters, to smoke alarms and first aid kits for every household in the city, trust funding positively impacts every sector of the community – something Mr Mulvey is justifiably proud of.
“We’ve always strived to help Invercargill box well ahead of its weight, and that’s made a real difference down here as Invercargill has continued to evolve.”
Confirmation the trust would invest up to $40 million in a new inner-city hotel was testament to its faith in the city’s future and a belief it would act as a catalyst for further developments and rejuvenation, he said.
“We’ve built up very solid financial reserves over the years, so it does feel a bit like we’ve just spent the kids’ inheritance,” Mr Mulvey said.
“There’s challenges ahead and there’s challenges right now, but I have every faith Chris and his team will succeed.”
Mr Mulvey paid tribute to the trust’s board, executive team and the “dedicated” managers of its establishments.
“Every day is different here and one of the real privileges for me has been working with the fantastic team I’ve always had around me.
“Hospitality has more colourful and interesting people per square metre than any other industry you could ever imagine. I’ve always said the ILT is only as good as the sum of the parts – we are totally dependent on those that run our businesses and we pay homage to them.
“At head office, it’s always been a very small executive team, but they’ve all been long serving, committed and talented people. I’ve been very lucky in that respect. They’ve made my role very enjoyable and, if the ILT is judged a successful organisation, it’s not down to Greg Mulvey, it’s down to his team – there’s no question about that.”
Despite being the trust’s youngest general manager when appointed at just 34 years old, Mr Mulvey had strong leaders to aspire to, including his predecessor Alan De La Mere and board chairmen David Harrington, Ray Harper and Alan Dennis.
“I always had the desire to try and meet or exceed their expectations,” he said.
“As the years went by, particularly in the early days, I remember thinking ‘how would Alan De La Mere feel about this initiative’? or ‘how would he judge my performance in this situation’?
“I’ve only ever had three chairmen and they’ve all been great. They were very supportive and knew what they wanted and I enjoyed, with my team, delivering on their expectations.
“To me the most challenging years were in the early to mid-90s when we were trying to turn around the financial performance of the organisation by building up reserves and extinguishing debt, and that coincided with the building of the stadium. Ray Harper had taken over as chairman and they were exciting times working with him to get the commercial side of the business in shape while spending a huge amount of time on the stadium.
“Ray was an absolute gem through all of that time.”
The respect was mutual for Mr Harper, who rated Mr Mulvey’s tenure as “outstanding”.
“I’ve been in business all my life and I think Greg is probably the most competent businessman I’ve ever had anything to do with. I couldn’t speak more highly of him – even when he was a young accountant just starting out at the trust, I thought ‘this joker’s pretty good’,” Mr Harper said.
“The trust had a considerable amount of debt when I took over as chair – I’d never had a monkey on my back in all my years of business so we developed a plan and within two years Greg came to me and said ‘we’re clear of debt’.
“He’s dedicated his whole career to making the trust what it is today. It’s gone from strength to strength and he has left a legacy in that regard. I don’t actually remember him ever making a mistake because he always did his homework first.”
Mr Mulvey had proved instrumental in changing public perceptions of the trust, Mr Harper said.
“There used to be a letter in the paper every day condemning the trust for something – we set out to make our place better and get rid of that.”
Mr Harper was confident Mr Mulvey’s influence would continue.
“I’ve known the trust all my life and you never really retire –you’re always still part of the trust family.”
While time with wife Lea and their family was a focus, Mr Mulvey planned to continue in other roles, including as a director of SBS Bank and board member of the Southland Indoor Leisure Centre Charitable Trust. He will also serve on the board of DB South Island Breweries until May.
“I’ve got plenty of things on my plate.”
A fellow of both the Australia/New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants and the New Zealand Institute of Management New Zealand, Mr Mulvey was inducted into the Hospitality New Zealand Hall of Fame last year.
Trust chairman Alan Dennis acknowledged Mr Mulvey’s wealth of experience.
“Greg’s opinion and knowledge is highly valued by all the national associations. He’s extremely sharp, especially when it comes to the financial side of things, and always very astute,” he said.
“The ILT is heralded as the benchmark for good practice amongst its peers. One of the reason’s the trust has been so successful is we’ve always stuck to our knitting and done the job well.
“Greg understood the role of leadership and developed a strong team built on a foundation of respect and trust. He was fastidious while also very forward-thinking in terms of what’s would be in the trust’s best interest in the future.”