Fisher & Paykel Appliances Holdings Ltd. washing
machines. Photo supplied.
Fisher & Paykel has a place in the hearts and minds
of many New Zealanders.
The company was formed in 1934, after young friends Woolf
Fisher and Maurice Paykel managed to sell surplus
refrigerators that had been imported by Paykel's family
company - Paykel Brothers.
In 1938, import and foreign exchange restrictions forced the
firm to consider manufacturing.
Orders were sourced on the basis of a mock-up and production
of Kelvinator washing machines was started.
In the South, Fisher & Paykel has been the employer of
thousands of people in and around Dunedin and Mosgiel.
Its production plant on the Taieri produced world-class
whiteware thanks to its skilled designers and engineers.
Royalty and politicians were seen gracing the factory floor,
happy to be associated with a successful New Zealand-owned
company producing whiteware and kitchenware on a par with the
best in the world. The now famous DishDrawer arrived on the
global stage after being shipped out of Port Chalmers.
But times changed. Fisher & Paykel was split into two
companies - Appliances and Healthcare. The more concentrated
direction appeared profitable for the company.
So it was with great sadness and a sense of disbelief that
news of the Taieri plant's closure was announced at a press
conference in Dunedin in 2008.
The Dunedin City Council pledged its support for out-of-work
staff and the Appliances company committed to keeping its
spectacularly successful design team in Dunedin.
Recently, control of Fisher & Paykel Appliances, the
company which maintains a presence in Dunedin, passed quickly
and almost quietly into the hands of the Chinese-owned Haier
Group. Haier already owned 20% of FPA after effectively
rescuing the company in 2009, when it acquired the holding as
part of a capital raising that let FPA refinance its debt.
FPA got distribution into China as a result of the deal and
the ability to further licence its technology.
Haier originally offered $1.20 a share for a total takeover
of FPA. But, in all honesty, the company must have known it
would have to lift its price. When it announced the offer was
$1.28, it secured enough large shareholders - and the
independent directors - to take it to owning nearly 52% of
While the semantics would suggest that 52% ownership means
the company is still in Kiwi hands, the reality is that a
controlling interest is just that: controlling. (Haier's
offer is still subject to Overseas Investment Office
approval, but it seems a formality.)Compare then the ease
with which Haier took control of a long-established New
Zealand company with the prolonged struggle by Chinese
company Shanghai Pengxin to buy 16 central North Island
Crafar farms. It now hopes to settle the purchase of the
farms after the Supreme Court last week removed the last
obstacle to the deal, an appeal by Maori trusts.
While it would be easy for Haier, a global whiteware group,
to shift FPA to China, it is impossible for Shanghai Pengxin
to shift 16 dairy farms anywhere. It seems xenophobia ruled
in the farm debate. Why should the Chinese be allowed to buy
New Zealand farms, the critics howled?
And compare that reaction with the welcoming of recent news
that Canadian film-maker James Cameron continues to expand
his south Wairarapa property portfolio.
Incidentally, Mr Cameron's neighbour, American billionaire
Bill Foley, has won permission from the Overseas Investment
Office to expand his Kiwi-based wine operation.
However, just like Haier, it is likely both Mr Cameron and Mr
Foley paid market rates for their purchases. If the Maori
trusts, and their benefactor Sir Michael Fay, had been truly
serious about buying the Crafar farms, all they had to do was
offer a higher price than that being offered by Shanghai
Xenophobia is not the determining factor in such sales:
shareholders make their own decisions based on price and
their own circumstances.