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Passionate entrepreneur to receive honorary doctorate

April 16, 2014
Passionate political and business entrepreneur to receive honorary doctorate

One of New Zealand’s most passionate political, philanthropic business entrepreneurs will receive a University of Canterbury honorary doctorate at the graduation ceremony tomorrow (Thursday).

Alan Gibbs has been called an entrepreneur, merchant banker, political activist, philanthropist, art collector, adventurer and inventor of high speed amphibians.

He says he still enjoys most of those activities. He also spends three months of the year developing one of the world’s great sculpture farm parks just out of Auckland on the Kaipara Harbour.

`` The rest of the time I’m based out of London but I travel a lot. I have been to 110 countries by helicopter in the last 10 years which is probably some type of record.

``I’m working on a number of high speed amphibian vehicles in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Auckland. It keeps me fairly busy.’’

The Aquada was revealed to the public in 2003 and was used by English business magnate Sir Richard Branson to break the record for an amphibious crossing of the English Channel in 2004. In 2012, two new high speed vehicles – the Humdinga and the Phibian – were unveiled in the United States, and the Quadski was commercially launched in 2012.’’

Gibbs says it will be a great honour to receive an honorary doctorate from the university where he graduated.

``I have not visited Christchurch since the earthquakes but I have relatives and friends who live there who have been badly affected. But there is a lot of passion for Christchurch as it rebuilds.

``I have great deal of affection for Christchurch. I was born in the Cashmere hills and we had a holiday house in Akaroa. I was confirmed in the ChristChurch Cathedral and my capping photo was taking outside the cathedral.

``My university days were spent in the old campus, now the Arts Centre, which has a major architectural attraction. It’s a great tragedy that it suffered so much damage.’’

Gibbs says he is looking forward to seeing the University of Canterbury’s engineering car, designed and built by students for an international university event later this year, during his tour of the campus before Thursday’s second graduation ceremony.

The Canterbury mechanical engineering car won a trophy at the event in Melbourne last year. After that competition, Canterbury ranked is the top rookie team in the world.

Between the late 1970s and mid-1990s, Gibbs was active in restructuring inefficient businesses such as New Zealand Forestry Corporation and, more significantly, Telecom so that their best elements could survive and prosper in competitive markets.

He helped establish New Zealand’s first pay television channel, Sky TV, and was a key to the development of Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour.

He has devoted the past 15 years to the immense engineering challenge of developing and commercialising the world’s first high speed amphibious vehicle technology, for which he is now being recognised by the awarding of the Honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

As a generous supporter of the arts, he and his former wife Dame Jenny Gibbs established the NEW Gallery in Auckland and were founding donors to Te Papa.

More than 1200 University of Canterbury students will graduate this week.


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