Analysis: Rupert's Buddy Behind Qantas-Ansett Deal
Analysis by Pattrick Smellie, Auckland
Former News Ltd director and Ansett New Zealand executive chairman Ken Cowley is the key to the deal which sees a consortium of low-profile, wealthy Kiwis take over a New Zealand domestic airline which News Ltd ended up owning by default in 1996.
Cowley and Ansett NZ's chief executive Kevin Doddrell are bonded to the newly reconstituted airline for the first five years of the initial seven-year franchise period.
The Auckland merchant banker who first approached Cowely, David Belcher, confirmed yesterday that Cowley's experience as chairman of Ansett NZ since it was established with a 50 per cent News Ltd holding in 1987 made him invaluable to its future operation.
Cowley yesterday disclosed that he has a personal stake of 12.5 per cent in Ansett NZ through RM Williams, which he controls, and a further 10 per cent is held by business partner Kerry Stokes, leaving 77.5 per cent in New Zealand hands.
The New Zealand investors include interests associated with the Skeggs fisheries dynasty in Dunedin, long-time entrepreneurs Alan Gibbs and Trevor Farmer through their Tappenden Holdings Ltd vehicle, three principals of Auckland merchant banker Clavell Capital, which brokered the deal, and individual investors Chris and Richard Coon, Ian Hendry, and Greg Lancaster.
While the Qantas kangaroo will grace the renamed airline's fleet of eight British Aerospace 146 "whisper jets" and smaller regional commuter planes, advertising is expected to emphasise that Qantas NZ is now more New Zealand-owned than national carrier Air New Zealand.
Air NZ's two largest shareholders are Singapore International Airlines and Brierley Investments Ltd, now registered in Bermuda.
Cowley told Scoop yesterday that negotiations between News and Qantas had been difficult and there was pressure to sell the airline as part of the wider sale of Ansett Australia.
"We didn't mind. We had to sell it and they (Qantas) seemed to be the obvious ones and as it happened I was able to find a New Zealand consortium.
"They came to me," he said.
Qantas chief executive James Strong said yesterday's deal was arguably an even better outcome than an outight sale.
There had been no discussion regarding Qantas eventually taking an equity stake in the reconfigured airline.
"All things are possible, but it's not a priority," he said.