Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

The Myers

David Ling Publishing Limited, 2007
(Written with Paul Goldsmith)

This is a biography of four generations of a remarkable family that became one of New Zealand's most successful and best known. The ancestors of the modern Myers left the Jewish ghettoes of Poland and Germany in the 1850s for Australia's goldfields, and then New Zealand's. They made, then lost money supplying diggers before shifting to Thames where Louis Ehrenfried opened a brewery and involved himself in local politics. Eventually he and his widowed sister Catharina Myers and her children moved to Auckland. There Ehrenfried's liquor industry expanded rapidly. By the time he died in 1897 he had acquired hotels and breweries worth nearly $30 million in today's terms. Ehrenfried had no son. Catharina's boy Arthur was his favourite nephew, and inherited most of his wealth. He completed a merger of the family's interests with those of John Logan Campbell that traded under the name of Campbell & Ehrenfried. Myers traveled widely, married into a London/Australian Jewish family named Levy, and was Mayor of Auckland 1905-9. He was then a Liberal MP 1910-21, briefly Minister of Finance in 1912, and a successful Minister of Customs and Minister of Munitions during World War One.

Sir Arthur Myers was devoutly Jewish, but religious observance faded with his son's generation. A strong philanthropic tradition continued. Sir Kenneth, then Sir Douglas managed the liquor business through changing times. Innovation that was difficult in the highly regulated world of liquor between 1920 and 1960 had become an option again by 1970. Douglas Myers bought his relatives' shares in Campbell & Ehrenfried in 1972, weathered a court case over valuations, and developed first New Zealand Wines & Spirits, then Lion Breweries. In 1988 it merged with the old Auckland merchant company L.D. Nathan to form Lion Nathan. Douglas Myers was its managing director. After the company purchased Alan Bond's Australian brewing business in 1990 Myers owned 20% of the expanded Lion Nathan. It was New Zealand's biggest brewer and Australia's second largest. Douglas was a champion of free-market reform in the 1980s and 1990s, chairing the Business Roundtable. He retired from his executive roles in 1998, staying on for a time as company chairman. He sold his shareholding to the Japanese brewing firm Kirin before moving to live in London.

The book is about an international family as much as it is a business story. Liberally-minded Jews in the first two generations, Kenneth Myers of the third married the Costa Rican-born Margaret Pirie of Scots-Canadian ancestry in 1933. Their children were not Jewish, Douglas being baptized an Anglican. Kenneth, Douglas and his son Campbell were all graduates of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. Each generation was influenced by strong-minded women, all of them cosmopolitan in outlook, and who loved to travel. The book has gone to a second printing.