Measures of Financial Collapse

By David

The world’s first discount airline was called Laker Airways. For twenty years Laker Airways enjoyed spectacular success. And then as a result of regulation restrictions and cut throat competition from British Airways and others, on the 5th February 1982, the company collapsed with debts of 270million pounds. At the time I was living in Windsor and working at Priory Gate, Clerkenwell or, as it is more popularly known, Smithfield Meat Market. Along with 60 million other Brits I was fascinated by the rise and fall of Laker Airways. I was especially interested to read that the “Financial Times” had asked the Laker Airways receiver to write an article on what he considered were seven signs of impending financial ruin.

Two days later on my normal 7.30am train to Waterloo I opened the paper to the receiver’s report. I expected to be told about critical debt to equity ratios, profit to sale’s revenue percentages, customer retention, bad debt levels and the cost of excess stock. But what I got instead was the most dazzling 2000 words of financial advice ever penned. I cannot remember all seven critical warning signs. However the five that I can recall were, a fountain in the company courtyard, more than two flag poles outside the corporate headquarters, a Chairman who owns a racehorse, a CEO who has a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and Directors who employ a cordon-bleu cook to prepare their lunch. It was brilliant reading and wise words indeed.

I was reminded of the receiver’s report this weekend. I was at Swimming New Zealand’s Lake Taupo Open Water Championships. On Saturday morning I turned up at the Taupo AC Baths for my swimmers to warm up for their lake swim. And there in the car park sat a gleaming black Mazda CX-5 adorned with Swimming New Zealand and High Performance Sport logos. Wow, I thought, who owns this $50,000 beauty? The answer was standing beside the outdoor pool. The new Millennium Institute coach, David Lyles, was there coaching five swimmers. It’s hard to escape the thought that sitting in the car park is a vehicle that cost us $10,000 per swimmer. Simply to justify the car, Lyles had better be one hell of a coach.

But, as they say, there is more. Down by the lake the “official car park” was like a Mazda show room. It does seem that when Miskimmin has a point to prove, money is the smallest of problems. I don’t know whether Miskimmin believes he can buy Olympic success. But, if Swimming New Zealand is representative, it looks like he supports the view that throwing money at a problem will be the cure. Right now Swimming New Zealand is a union of an eighteenth century coal mine and a perfect example of the Laker Airways’ report. A coal mine because, while Renford and Lyles are driving around in leather cushioned luxury the rest of the sport struggles simply to make ends meet. The discrepancy between the haves and the have nots is huge. In the have not category are six swimmers selected to represent New Zealand in the Oceania Open Water Championships. I’m told Swimming New Zealand would not even pay their entry fees for the event. I might be wrong but I have to say it does not seem to me to be the way a sport should be run.

And the Laker Airway’s receiver’s report? Contrary to the popular view that swimming has no money, right now Swimming New Zealand is out there spending money like a drunken sailor. I’ve already told you about the line-up of expensive cars. But Lauren Boyle is in Spain again, training at altitude. It begs the question – who is Lauren Boyles coach? $50,000 worth of motor car and New Zealand’s best swimmer is 12,000 miles away training with someone else. Or does Lauren Boyle have concerns about Lyles training? Remember, Boyle will know. She is the product of one of the world’s best programs on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. And then, in a few weeks, I’m told, thirteen of the Millennium faithful are off to Arizona for another stint of altitude training. I think the extravagance is obscene.

So what else did I learn in Taupo. Well, Phillip Rush has gone. The official story is that he resigned but my guess is Swimming New Zealand is not too upset by his departure. However the exits should not stop with Philip Rush. Newspaper reports tell me Swimming New Zealand sent a letter of support for Rush to the Magistrate’s Court. If Christian Renford approved that letter then, in my view, his behaviour fails to meet the standard required of a CEO. There is not much point in putting “Excellence – Integrity – Accountability” on your letters if you involve the sport in a sordid case of drunk driving. Accountability in this case should involve a flight back to Australia.

And then there is this bit of mismanagement. This is what Swimming New Zealand rules say about wearing a life jacket. (Link opens a PDF file.)

Swimmers competing in the New Zealand Open Water and Oceania Championship races will have their feeding boat in position at the start end of the course. Feeders will be transported to this boat on IRB’s prior to the race starting. Life jackets will not be provided so feeders will need to provide their own for the trip to the feeding boat, and to wear whilst on the feeding boat. There will be a few available but don’t be caught out without one.

I don’t own a life jacket so I hired one for the day from a local Taupo canoe retailer. I turned up on the feeding boat to find that of thirty people on the boat I was the only one wearing a life jacket. State Insurance gives Swimming New Zealand a lot of money to promote water safety. A goal they endorse with the slogan, “With you in the Water”. Just not at Lake Taupo it seems. Thirty anxious coaches and administrators, some well into their sixties, leaning way over the edge of the boat handing swimmers drink and food, and not a life jacket in sight. Again Christian Renford, there seems little point in thanking State Insurance for their money when the purpose of that money seems to be of such little value. Some would call that hypocrisy. But then anything is possible at an event run by Swimming New Zealand where Philip Rush is the Safety Officer. Perhaps I should ask for my hire charge of $7.50 to be refunded from Miskimmin’s High Performance budget.

However the swimming, I enjoyed. Kane Radford and Philip Ryan are showing progress from their private club training. Thank you – It was fun watching the two of you at work.

  • David

    On the subject of lifejackets I was interested to read the following Lake Taupo Harbourmaster’s rule

    1. Life jackets – Take them, wear them. It will increase your survival time.
    Well done Swimming New Zealand – what a fine example of responsible behaviour. What respect it shows for your sponsor’s dollar. What care it demonstrates for your members safety.
    Christian Renford – the mistakes are adding up.

  • john

    Talking about snz safety, any truth to the rumour that a coaches development weekend last year almost ended in disaater when snz led a group of coaches un prepared through a riverbed trek in deteriorating weather?