The Company You Keep

By David

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about the former Dominion Finance Chief Executive, Paul Cropp. There was a swimming connection. For several years Cropp was also the Secretary of the North Shore Swimming Club. At the time of his conviction, on four charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, Cropp was still a Board member of the North Shore Club.

The Serious Fraud Office, which brought the proceedings against Cropp, argued he knowingly and deliberately breached the requirements of Dominion’s debenture trust deed or that of its sister company, North South Finance. The SFO said Cropp caused or assisted Dominion or North South to make loans worth millions of dollars – without trustee consent – to related parties. Although Cropp did not stand to personally gain from the transactions, SFO lawyer Dickey said the 50-year-old had an interest in keeping the companies afloat because of the $450,000 salary he was receiving. In the end, both companies collapsed as part of the wave of finance firms that folded after 2007.

I was surprised that Cropp continued to stand for election to the North Shore Club Board while he was defending such serious honesty charges. It must have occurred to him that his presence on the Board could become a liability. But perhaps not – I’ve been told these finance guys are not short on ego. I was even more surprised that the North Shore Club continued to accept Cropp as a Board member. The Board of a club has a responsibility to protect the interests of its members. It is difficult to imagine how the North Shore Board rationalized Cropp’s presence with that duty. It is interesting that a day after the first Swimwatch story about Paul Cropp was published his name disappeared from the list of North Shore Swimming Club directors.

All this came to a head, when Justice Graham Lang sentenced Cropp to two years and seven months in jail.

It is hard to reconcile the arrogance of Cropp’s persistent efforts to be re-elected to the North Shore Board with the “overwhelming remorse” he told the Court he felt every day and night. Cropp continued to play a starring role in the affairs of the North Shore Club right up to the Club’s Annual General Meeting held one year ago on 14 June 2012. By that time the nature and extent of the accusations being made by the Serious Fraud Office were well and truly known; for one month short of two years to be precise. One would have thought that Cropp’s “overwhelming remorse” would have prompted him to play a very low key role in the Club’s affairs; perhaps even stand down while his guilt or innocence was being tested. But instead the North Shore President, Phil Mitchell, – or as I’m told he prefers to be known, Dr Phil Mitchell – decided to highlight Cropp’s profile with the following declaration – “I am reluctant to single out individuals, but special thanks must go Paul Cropp for his continued efforts as secretary and as the leader of our strategic planning initiatives.”

Clearly, remorse means different things to different people. So, it appears, does humility. Especially when you are good at something, and North Shore is good at swimming. Without being servile it is important to act with reserve and dignity. The behaviour of these North Shore leaders appears to fall short of that test; something many in the rest of the swimming nation have understood for some time.

However, there is no intention in this essay to censure Cropp. He did a really dumb thing and will now pay in good measure. Whether the mental picture we have of these finance types driving around in expensive Porsche Cayenne cars while they wait for their mansions on the Devonport waterfront to be built has any validity we will never know – and personally I don’t really care.

What I do think is relevant is the following news report of Cropp’s sentencing hearing.

“Cropp was the secretary of the North Shore Swimming Club for a number of years and Billington – that’s Cropp’s lawyer – read out a letter from the former president of the North Shore Swimming Club: “He [Cropp] is one of the most decent people I have had the pleasure to work with,” the letter said.

The former president referred to is Dr Phil again. It is hard not to see his actions as anything but arrogant. I have nothing against him supporting his mate through some tough times. In fact I admire that sort of loyalty. However there is no justification for dragging the North Shore Swimming Club’s name into Cropp’s illegal turmoil. In fact by using his previous position to rally support for Cropp, Dr Phil may be guilty of as many Code of Conduct violations as his “most decent” friend. What about: “being professional in, and accepting responsibility for, your actions or being aware of, and maintain an uncompromising adhesion to, standards, rules, regulations and policies or never acting in any way that may bring disrepute or disgrace to SNZ members.”

I confess, I am biased. My negative opinion of Dr Phil is influenced by what I have seen in one meeting and read of his views on swimming matters. For example, how can Dr Phil label a convicted thief as one of the most decent people he’s had the pleasure to work with? Especially when High Court Justice Lang Justice said he did not sense any remorse when Cropp testified during the trial. It could be that “no remorse and decent” says as much about Dr Phil as it does about his friend in the “big house”.

My prejudice however has another source. While Dr Phil was out there thanking and defending Paul Cropp, he was writing this in his 2012 North Shore Club’s President’s Report

The swimming politics that have played out over this last year have had a devastating effect on the sport, and eroded public and funder confidence in the wider governance of the sport. Suffice it to say that clubs like ours deserve a considerably better quality of service from those in positions of responsibility. We hope that the Moller report signals a cessation to the divisive patch protection politics that has caused so much damage to the sport of swimming and heralds a renewed sense of shared vision and collegiality.

This Dr Phil tirade is a crack at those who opposed Project Vanguard and supported a federal management structure: people like Brian Palmer, most members of the Auckland Board and very able and honest executives like Suzanne Spear and Bronwyn Radford. In fact a majority of those involved in NZ swimming governance did not want Project Vanguard. For Dr Phil to label these good people divisive, damaging and question the quality of their service is disgraceful; especially when he holds a convicted felon in such high esteem.     

In the UK recently UBS CEO, Andrea Orcel, told Parliament: the financial industry has become “arrogant,” needed to overhaul its culture “to put integrity over profit” and try to recover the “honesty and standing of the past.” Ms Orcel may well be pleased at some of the changes that have just been made at the North Shore Swimming Club.

  • Tom

    While not necessarily on topic, this post – and a number of your recent posts – call to mind that other sport I love – surf lifesaving. As we’re all aware, surf lifesaving NZ’s own scheme to bring all the regions under the control of the central body in Wellington (called Project Groundswell) has been an unmitigated disaster.

    I knew from friends over the ditch that Surf Lifesaving Australia also had its problem. But boy, do they really have problems. I’d recommend this documentary on ABC’s Four Corners show:

    It paints a pretty graphic picture of what happens when power is centralised and leaders (mostly out to protect their lush salaries) completely lose touch with the movement they purport to govern.

    A quote from the show: Their views are backed by others inside the movement. As one experienced lifesaver told the program, he believes SLSA is top heavy with management and that too little of the money raised by the national body makes its way down to the grass roots: “If anyone knew what was going on they would go down to their local club and donate money straight to the club.”

    What reminded me of this post is that Surf Life Saving New South Wales (as the show reveals) sank half a million dollars into property development owned by its own president. The president’s property development company subsequently went into liquidation. Of course, the massive losses were expunged from the annual report – signed off by the president. While the president was let go by New South Wales, he was subsequently rehired by Surf Lifesaving Australia as a senior manager. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

  • David

    Thank you. I found the Four Corners report most interesting.

  • interested

    I find this very interesting. Dr Phil (love that) made sure that Paul Cropp was re-elected unopposed while my family was still involved with NSS. I have witnessed Paul Cropp’s arrogance in other events – he once tried to avoid paying $10 to charity to do a Beach Series swim. “Decent person” my eye. His wife was mortified and came and paid the charity donation.

    Keep fighting the good fight David; although it’s years since I’ve been involved in swimming, I keep up with Swimwatch with keen interest.

  • The Truth

    total bullshit

  • The Truth

    This is a very biased opinion by yourself David Wright and i do not believe you have ever met Paul Cropp so who are you to judge him? I hope this article gets done for defamation and you receive the full extent of the law, which you deserve.

    • Interested

      Dear The Truth.
      Please see my comment below. I have met Paul Cropp and I believe that David has judged him very well. He’s gone to prison hasn’t he? (Paul, not David), what else is there to say?

  • The Truth

    Why don’t you let these comments be posted are you scared David Wright? Nice to be hiding behind a computer screen isn’t it.

    • Jane_Copland

      Don’t know what you’re taking about. Your comments were approved within a quarter of an hour of you posting them. This last one was left none minutes ago.

      • The Truth

        I was notified that they were not approved lady.

        • Jane_Copland

          You were notified that they were awaiting moderation. They don’t appear immediately because, like a lot of websites, they have to be approved by an admin before they appear. This is mainly a measure to avoid spam comments, not criticisms. All of your comments have been approved. All future comments you make will be approved as soon as admins see them in their email accounts. I am admin here, and I approved your comments 15 minutes after you left them. However, if I leave my computer and you leave more comments, you’ll need to wait until I or someone else sees them for them to be published.