James Newlove may not have drawn a winning hand to start his life, but grabbed his opportunities to enjoy some good sporting days and a successful career in the IT industry. He grew up in a single parent household with very little money, but made a break into mega-company IBM and never looked back. He spoke with Ben Donaldson…
It never really dawned on me I didn’t have a father growing up until I got older and looked at my friends’ families. I was born in 1943 and my Dad left the following year to serve in the RNZAF in Canada. He never saw any action, he ended up with another woman over there and abandoned our family, so I never knew him. Both wars took a big toll on the Newlove family. We lost six Newlove boys in total – three of whom were all killed in the same week at Passchendaele. There were two letters sent to inform their mum about their deaths. The mailman couldn’t bear to deliver the second letter. I always feel a great sense of loss on Anzac Day because of that.
I grew up in St Albans, a suburb of Christchurch, with my Mum and younger sister. We lived in a very modest house, which was four rooms split in half by a corridor. It would get so cold in winter I could scrape ice off the inside of my bedroom window. The toilet was outside and walking to it over the stone path on a winter’s night was almost unbearable. One night we were sitting around the table having dinner and the wind blew so hard a whole wall of wallpaper folded down over us like a blanket, which had us all laughing. Mum worked at the Ballantynes store in Christchurch when I was young. The store later burnt down, killing 41 people. I remember seeing the smoke from our house a few kilometres away. She then worked in a factory for a soft drink manufacturer and used to leave the house in her gumboots each morning. She was a different sort of woman who played cricket and did ballet.
I went to St Albans School. I used to tell the other students that my father had never made it back from the war so he sounded like some sort of a hero. He reached out to me just before he died, but I declined a visit. I moved on to Papanui High School where I met one of the most important people in my life, teacher Cliffe Cross. He went on to be the principal of Burnside High School and was a fantastic teacher of science. With guidance from him and a few other staff members, I believe I would have made university, but seeing how much mum struggled at home, I decided to get a job to earn some money.
I applied for a job at International Computers Limited. The advert preferred someone with a bachelor’s degree, but I was confident and gave it a shot. It was an ex-army Major Doug May who gave me a chance. I think he sympathised with my story. After a year of saving up, I bought my first car, a Morris Eight, for £100. Growing up I walked and biked everywhere because Mum never had a car and couldn’t drive until she was in her fifties. I taught myself to drive. I remember picking the car up and having to work out the gear changes to get it home. After that, I drove the family everywhere.
My job involved selling punched card, based systems for doing things like invoicing and running their computer bureau. The bureau was brought out and became Datacom, which still operates today as a billion dollar operation. I was also involved with sport. I had been in the school gymnastics team, did competitive swimming, played water polo and had three medals from the Royal Life Saving Society.
However, my favourite sport was rugby. I played regularly for Canterbury B team and even got some time in the first team. It was fantastic playing at Lancaster Park alongside All Blacks like Bruce Watt and Alex Wyllie. I was a midfield player, but usually got placed on the wing. I also ran the first Auckland Marathon that included the harbour bridge crossing. I only trained for six weeks prior and really felt the pain with three kilometres to go, but I finished.
In 1970 I went to Sydney for my OE and worked for Sperry Rand. On return to New Zealand I relocated to Auckland and picked up a job with IBM in the office products division. I went on a four-week intensive training course in Sydney, where I became the first New Zealander to top the class and win the PG Webster Award. I joined the company at an exciting time when the Correcting Selectric Golf Ball Typewriter was released. This was a game changer. When I showed it to someone in an office, the whole team would gather around and watch in amazement.
I was then promoted to branch manager information products division. I had a great sales team that included the future managing directors of Microsoft NZ and Vodafone. We sold IBM Systems 34, 36 and 38, and then AS400 computer systems worth over $1 million each. At the same time, in 1981, we began selling the first personal computers. The IBM PC was released globally on the same day meaning we were the first country to do so because of the time zone differences. They were very basic and expensive back then, and we didn’t realise just what their future would be at the time. I ended up in Australia for two years with my job. I did a lot of presentations for work, but the most memorable one was in front of 400 lawyers who were members of the New South Wales Law Society. IBM was a fantastic company to work for and in my 17 years there I received 14 performance pins that were 18 carat gold each.
My children grew up in Milford. We had three sons, Greg, Steven and Ben, and a daughter, Alex. Greg works in the IT industry and Steve is an importer of gym equipment in Sydney, despite having a degree in mechanical engineering. Ben works on GPS-style mapping systems also in Sydney and Alex is a journalist in London. After IBM, I worked at Canon as Auckland manager and had around 80 staff working for me. It was another great company to work for and I enjoyed dealing with equipment like laser printers and $10,000 cameras. After a decade there, I decided to take a break. I spent two years with my family while running a consulting business from home.
I thought retirement would be great and give me time for all the things I wanted to do. I did get to play more golf than ever before, but before long I realised I needed a job to keep busy. I discovered one at Jerry Clayton BMW in Takapuna, cleaning the cars and dropping off customers. I got to meet a lot of interesting people there. I planned to be there for a couple of years, but that somehow rolled into another decade. I came to Warkworth five years ago, and I got involved with the bowls club in town and keep busy there. I chair the finance committee and was heavily involved with putting the new carpet green in recently. I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of work and activities, but I don’t mind as long as I keep busy.