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What’s your background?
I was born in Christchurch, went to St Bede’s College. Then I went onto Otago University, then up to Wellington to do my three-year diploma in pharmacy. During my second year in Wellington, my father died. I was 21. Mum was still back in Christchurch. There was no pressure for me to come back and live with her, but it made sense, because I am an utter Cantabrian, and I am still here now. So after I finished my pharmacy qualification, when I had to do a one year’s internship, I came back to Christchurch to do that.
Were you caring for your mum?
God no, she cared for me! She would be ironing my shirts, doing my washing, everything. She would always have a meal ready for me when I came home from work. She spoiled me rotten, she would be the best mother a human being could ever have.
What made you want to go into pharmacy?
I made the decision during high school that I needed to do biology, chemistry and physics, to be able to prepare myself to go to university and do the right subjects. I always regarded myself as good with maths and accounting and that sort of thing, and I thought I could of gone in that direction. But for some reason at an early phase, I thought I am going to do pharmacy, and I haven’t wavered from that moment. I get as much enjoyment out of it today as when I started 40 years ago.
What inspired you to own your own pharmacy?
The inspiration to take the bold step of owning my own business came from a pharmacy guild evening one night. As a guest speaker, they had Michael Hill jeweller. He spoke of working for his uncle (and starting his own business). He was an incredibly motivating speaker. I thought ‘My god, I can actually do this myself’. I came away from it absolutely fizzing. I said to (my former partner) Anja, she said ‘You know you are good at what you do’. I have always subscribed to doing the best you can possibly do. We (myself and Anja) bought our first pharmacy at 107 Riccarton Rd, that was about 1990. It was called Pharmacy 107. We were there for about four years.
We bought a 10-acre block of land in Lincoln because we wanted to have a bit of space, in 1992. At that time we had a one-year-old baby. We wanted to live a little bit rurally so we weren’t in suburbia, and so we could feel we could breathe.
What is a highlight of your career?
One of the biggest achievements was in 1994, when we were one of 100 expressions of interest to put the retail pharmacy in Christchurch Hospital, and we were the successful applicants. For me personally, that’s one of my greatest achievements, starting it from scratch and developing it into a successful business. And I have done exactly the same at Selwyn Community Pharmacy at Lincoln.
How did you establish Selwyn Community Pharmacy?
We were having a year off after selling the hospital pharmacy, where we were for 13 years, when the Lincoln village Four Square site became vacant. I drove past one day and I saw a ‘for tender’ sign go up. I rang the district health board, saying I know there is a pharmacy already in Lincoln, but the area is growing so much I would love to put a pharmacy in. The guy from the district health board was very encouraging. He said competition brings the best value and outcome for the patient, and we would totally support another pharmacy going in. So they guaranteed they would issue a dispensing contract if I put a tender in for the site. So I proceeded with that and the rest is history. We have now had 13 years at Selwyn Community Pharmacy, we started it in 2010.
Has the business grown?
Yes, I have just employed a new pharmacist. She is actually going to do 30 hours a week for me. I am absolutely thrilled to have her on board. We have had compounding growth every year. I had one year where we were just the same as the year before, and we have continued to grow every year since. We have a fantastic relationship with Lincoln Medical Centre next door to us, we work really synergistically with them. We try and problem solve, just try and get the best outcome for the patient.
I don’t think I could just flatly hit a brick wall and retire, I think that would be a little bit of a shock to my system. I’ve got to figure out an exit strategy, but it’s not on the radar at the moment. I will just continue doing what I am doing whilst I enjoy it as much as I do. And the other thing is, it’s all contingent on your health. We see people’s health change in an instant, and the material effect that it has on your life is profound. When somebody is diagnosed with a cancer or something, if they are a customer, you think ‘Oh my god’, it just really hits you. None of us (at the pharmacy) take our health for granted, and we all realise how fragile it is. And unless you have got your health, you have got nothing. So I am just determined whilst I have got my health, to enjoy what I do.
You could get to 80, and if you still have your health you could still be at the pharmacy?
Well I hope not! Whilst I do love it, I know you only live once. I’ve got goals. For example, I don’t enjoy Canterbury winters, and one dream I have when I am in a position to do so, I am going to have six weeks on the Sunshine Coast in the middle of our winter. It’s one thing I’ve always aspired to for my whole working life. But I’m going to be hanging around Selwyn Community Pharmacy for a bit longer, that’s for sure.
Do you have any other life goals?
I have got three adult children that I have a fantastic relationship with. My daughter is in Melbourne, it’s a sporting mecca. I enjoy going over to Melbourne and seeing the Australian tennis open. I’m going to do that soon. I play golf on the weekends. I love sport, I love watching sport, that’s my passion.
Last year you had the Bledisloe Cup on display in the pharmacy?
Yeah, we did. So my neighbour is Jason Ryan, he is the All Blacks forward coach. Last year after the Auckland test, Jason texted me on the Sunday and said ‘Pop over for a beer mate’. So over I go, we have a couple of beers, and chatting away, he said ‘Pop into the next room and have a wee look’. On his outdoor bar area, he’s got the bloody Bledisloe Cup! And he knows I’m an utter rugby enthusiast, my eyes just popped out of my head. Then next thing, Jason says to me ‘Do you want to take it to the pharmacy for a couple of days?’ It was just through Jason’s absolute generosity that we were able to display it. And look after it, and return it back in one piece, thank god. We had it there for two days. The community loved it.
Were you nervous it was going to get damaged?
The first night I had it here, after Jason wheeled it across to me, I woke up at four o’clock in the morning. I was so worried that I got up to have a look in the garage, to make sure it was still there! It was, thank god. Then I took it to work where we had it on display. It came in a big steel box with foam in it. I packed it up and brought it home each night. I wasn’t going to leave it in the pharmacy. Even though we’ve got the alarms on, someone could smash and grab it. I wasn’t going to run that risk.
No it hasn’t, which I am very grateful for. But we are also a little fortunate in our geography of where we are. There is a Chemist Warehouse in Blenheim Rd, and there is a Bargain Chemist in Hornby. If you are in close proximity to those players you get hurt, you really do get hurt. Also too there is a Bargain Chemist and Chemist Warehouse about to open in Rolleston, that may affect us a little. It will certainly affect the existing providers in Rolleston.
Smaller pharmacies can’t compete by making prescriptions free?
No, we couldn’t survive if we did that. Bargain Chemist is owned by Kiwis. Chemist Warehouse is an Australian parent discount high turnover-low margin operator, they turn over hundreds of millions of dollars and make very little money, and they don’t mind doing that. We can’t run a low-cost operation, because you can’t afford to pay the rent and pay your staff a decent wage. That $5 fee that the patient pays, that’s a Government fee. That’s so that when we electronically submit our prescription claims, $5 per item gets subtracted off what they calculate payment as, assuming that we have received the $5 from the patient. So it’s the patient’s contribution to their medicine cost, up to 20 items or $100 per year per patient, per couple or per family. A lot of people, like in our case, will still do that because of the level of care and attention they get from us. Many will consider it good value and will continue to be customers because we are there for them.
I have been told your car number plate says THE PIL, can you let me know the origin of that?
When we were at Christchurch Hospital we had a little blue runabout vehicle. The model of the car was an escargot. It was a big oval disc. We actually got the number plates made for it, and we called it THE PIL. It was just the legacy of that. When I bought this new motor vehicle, it’s a Honda Civic Type R, it’s really quite a lovely car, my boys said to me ‘Dad, what about getting the licence plate back to THE PIL?’, so we did. I had lost one of the plates, so we had to reapply to get the plates.