Polson Higgs Wealth Management senior adviser and director
Rhodes Donald loves his job. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Rhodes Donald has led a colourful life.
When the Dunedin financial adviser describes himself as a
jack of all trades, he is not kidding.
Among his diverse career and interests he has run a Hindu
Ashram, worked as an air traffic controller and a secondary
school teacher, played a violin in the National Youth
Orchestra and gained his commercial pilot's licence.
Now a senior adviser and director of Polson Higgs Wealth
Management Ltd, having joined the company in 2001, his career
took a vastly different path to what was originally intended.
He was brought up in the Wairarapa, where the Donald family
were original settlers of Masterton and his father, Haddon
Donald, served three terms as a National MP.
Now 96, Mr Donald is the oldest living former MP and
highest-ranked New Zealand Army officer from World War 2.
As eldest son, Rhodes was destined to take over the
well-known family business, manufacturing agricultural
equipment including wire strainers, wool presses and
stock-weighing equipment. Coincidentally, Oamaru-based Te
Pari Products now manufactures the Donald wool-press range.
From the time he was about 5 to when he was 20, Mr Donald
(62) described himself as an ''engineer'', who was famous
among family and friends for ''fixing things''.
After leaving school, he headed to Canterbury University -
and was a Charles Upham Scholar - to study mechanical
But in the last year of his degree, he headed back north,
''hung out'' in the Donald factory for three months and then
headed to Auckland.
While he loved his family, Mr Donald said he ''just wanted to
He acknowledged it would have been nice to have finished his
engineering degree - ''some of my clients now are engineers;
I'm terribly fascinated by what they do'' - but, at that
stage, his primary focus was to ''start afresh''.
Then began an interesting series of roles and jobs; he helped
a friend farming in Northland, joined a Hindu Ashram -
''spent a couple of years meditating'' - ended up running the
Ashram, met his future wife, became an air traffic
controller, became a father to three sons, completed a
commerce degree, worked for a trade union and then went
Teaching mathematics in a west Auckland secondary school was
a lot of fun but, after five or six years, he found the work
The advent of the David Lange-led Labour government whetted
his appetite to get into finance. He saw it as a ''brave new
world''. He wanted to be involved with it so he left
His first job was with a unit trust development company
called The Investment Exchange.
He then shifted from Auckland to Christchurch and got a job
in 1987 with FPG Research, now Morningstar, and became the
company's director of research.
At that stage, the principal of the company was Graham Rich,
whom Mr Donald described as being at the forefront of
financial planning in New Zealand. Mr Rich trained him as a
FPG Research bought a research company from Brisbane and the
research side of the business ''took off'' and he was
involved with shifting that back to Auckland.
But after finding himself ''burnt out'' in the research area,
he went back teaching for several years - this time in the
guidance department - something that he enjoyed, as his
interest had always been in people and what made them
He later returned to FPG Research to run its training and
development business and started doing more consultancy work
for banks and insurance companies. He did some work for what
is now known as AMP Capital and when a job arose, he joined
But he had always had an urge to be working with his own
clients by the time he was 50. He had ''sheltered'' himself
by teaching and working for companies and decided that it was
time to take the plunge.
When he joined Polson Higgs Wealth Management in its infancy,
he had no clients - ''just an ambition'' - and the business
was built up.
Most of the clients ended up being in Otago, rather than
Christchurch, and he shifted south to Dunedin about 2005. Now
remarried, he and his wife Amanda Shanley, a ceramicist, have
a 5-year-old daughter Frances.
Ms Shanley recently shifted her gallery and studio from Port
Chalmers to Macandrew Bay. The couple built a new home in
Vauxhall and the family is enjoying the Otago lifestyle.
When it came to work, Mr Donald reckoned he had ''the best
job in Polson Higgs without a doubt''.
The business had been built up to five staff, including one
in Christchurch, as well as a chief executive.
Mr Donald was chief executive while the business was being
built up but he later happily handed over the reins, saying
he was more interested in working with ''real people'' than
His interest in people proved valuable when it came to
getting to know his clients.
His job was about finding what was special about every
individual or couple he met and then identifying their core
issue, which was often not the issue they presented.
There was a different depth to each relationship.
''Some people absolutely rely on us, others treat us as quite
''You're not all things to all people. It's about finding the
people for whom you are adding a lot of value,'' he said.
His job also involved making complicated issues easy to
understand and relevant, while also making sure ''people
don't have too many eggs in one basket''.
New Zealand was a ''small, risky, shaky isle'' and that had
to be reflected in the company's portfolios and in people's
One thing he had learned was that without an investment
philosophy, ''you're on shaky ground''.
It was ''terribly important'' to have such a philosophy and
to keep stress-testing it.
Polson Higgs' investment philosophy was based on a lot of
research and a ''huge amount'' of data analysis.
One thing he was certain of was he did not want to be
investing other people's money based on his or anyone else's
forecasts of the future.
There was ''so much fallacy'' in the world that he worked in,
it would keep him ''intrigued for centuries''.
Those fallacies were ''deeply ingrained in our psyche'' and
humans were hard-wired to see things that did not exist.
Often animals made better investors than people, he said.