Entrepreneur Bryers turns blues into chips
By Duncan Bridgeman
Mark Bryers shifts uncomfortably in his chair.
He wants to set the record straight but he's not used to fronting up to the media.
It's three years since he fought off bankruptcy proceedings after a string of property companies collapsed, leaving creditors $44 million out of pocket.
In New Zealand there is no such thing as Chapter 11 protection, so for Bryers there were two options: ignominious bankruptcy, "where no one wins," or fight tooth and nail for your life.
Back then his advisers told him not to engage in the public forum, insisting instead that his actions should speak louder than words.
He says he received a raw deal; that he was directly responsible for less than $4 million of the total debt.
But the media repeatedly portrayed him as failed developer looking to negotiate a payout of just three cents for every dollar.
He won his stay against bankruptcy proceedings in the High Court at Auckland.
He then paid his debts in full, after winning a stoush with Harts Contributory Mortgages (formerly Reeves Moses), which had lent him money for his projects.
Now Bryers, 46, is back in the limelight as major shareholder of Blue Chip NZ, an NZX company looking to raise capital from an upcoming rights issue (the details of which have not yet been announced).
It's not surprising then, that Bryers is keen to put the past behind him.
The Blue Chip capital raising has already been scoffed at by some share brokers, who say the company is too small to bother with. Investors are scrutinising their investments closer than ever.
Bryers, who owns 75.4% of Blue Chip, says the company is not launching a huge publicity spin.
Blue Chip could grow at a faster rate but was taking a conservative approach because it did not want to get ahead of itself, he said.
"It's important to do what you say you are going to do."
The Auckland housing specialist which intends to expand its portfolio of investment products beyond residential got its listing via a reverse takeover deal with Newcall Group, a shell company which had sold off its main assets.
Headed by former Capital Properties chief Nick Wevers, Blue Chip has grown into a $5 million company in four years. Its primary business plan has been unlocking dormant equity in New Zealand homes by encouraging residential investors to fund themselves into other properties.
The company runs seminars, gets tenants for investors and manages a housing portfolio.
"I'm reluctant to come to the media but I have to set the record straight because there are many interested parties who think it's important the truth comes out," Bryers says.
"There are a lot of investors and clients of Blue Chip, who feel upset that I have not defended myself."
Bryers burst on to the Auckland property development scene in 1999.
He was quoted in the New Zealand Herald saying traditional developers' approach was "cock-eyed" and that he would not get out of bed in the morning just to build a building there had to be a return in it.
Within the space of a year, Bryers had attempted, with varying degrees of success, to get four office conversions off the ground.
Several attempts to convert the MLC Building on Queen St into 104 apartments in mid-1999 failed and the property was finally sold to separate interests, which successfully converted it into a hotel.
He came further unstuck with an attempt to convert the old RSC Building in St Paul St into student accommodation.
Harts sold that property at a mortgage auction.
Creditors claimed the debts stemmed from the collapse of Auckland City Apartments, Kennerley Holdings and Riviera properties.
Bryers denies his property developments were the catalyst.
He says he had a significant exposure to development finance with Harts Reeves Moses, which then shut up shop suddenly, causing a major effect on his cash flow and business at the time.
He says he could have petitioned for bankruptcy but chose to fight it instead, get his trading activities back on track and clean the slate with his creditors.
"When I first went into private business I thought I was well qualified to do so. In reality that wasn't the case. The experience of being in business is actually quite different."
Bryers believes he should be praised for the way he fought back. He says the New Zealand legal system does nothing to protect business people when they get into trouble.
"In this case I stood and fought, paid my debt and built a business employing more than 100 people.
"Now people are still calling me a failed businessman."
"[But] there are many cases of people who have done extremely well in business who have had some real hiccups along the way.
"The important thing is learning from those experiences and not repeating the same mistakes."
Bryers founded Blue Chip with former bankrupt Bob Bangerter and accumulated his shareholding through the intellectual property he brought to the table.
Before the consolidation, Newcall shares were worth about 2c.
Blue Chip shares are worth about $1.30.
However, Newcall shareholders own only 4.8% of the company, with 95.2% owned by Blue Chip's existing shareholders.
The upcoming rights issue is designed to give Newcall shareholders the chance to subscribe to a meaningful parcel.
The rights issue is expected to be at a discount to the prevailing market price.
Bryers said he was heading overseas to expand the business model.
He expected his shareholding to come down to about 40% over the next two years through natural attrition.
"We've done a lot of work in Australia and investigated in the US and the UK.
"It's all very well doing well here but if I want to challenge myself personally then it's important to develop this concept overseas."
As it stands, Bryers is sitting on some valuable stock.
"I guess I am, as a family we are. But I'd like to think we'll do better."
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