- Publish Date
- Tuesday, 13 December 2016, 7:55AM
Thirty-four years ago, Brendan Lindsay was making plastic coat hangers in a half-built garage in Cambridge.
Lindsay is now set for a big payday after the firm he started and majority owns, plastic container maker Sistema, was sold for $660 million to US Fortune 500 company Newell Brands.
The sale of Sistema to New Jersey-based Newell, which has a market capitalisation of US$22 billion, will help take the company to a new level, Lindsay told the Herald.
"Newell has the expertise and market access that will enable them to take the business to the next level and create new opportunities for the company, especially in North America," he said.
As part of the deal, Newell - the company behind brands like Rubbermaid and Sunbeam - will keep manufacturing in New Zealand for the next 20 years at the company's new 52,000sqm, $120m manufacturing facility near Auckland Airport.
Sistema sells a range of plastic storage containers in more than 90 countries, with offices in Australia, UK, France, Scandinavia, and the US, and has an extensive distribution network.
Newell would help elevate Sistema's performance in the elusive United States market, Lindsay said.
Sistema has come a long way since its early days.
Lindsay grew up in Pukerua Bay, near Wellington, in a family of five.
"I was regarded as the dunce of family and was treated accordingly," he said.
"My father used to say to me, 'You will end up on a park bench with a newspaper over you', so I don't think they held a lot of hope," Lindsay said.
"I don't have School C. I was not a scholar. I can't actually spell very well but I am good with numbers," he said.
"I have very strong desires and the ability to surround myself with good people. That is the key.
"My first employee still works for me. I attract good people and I keep good people."
Lindsay started making coat hangers all those years ago with the initial ambition simply supporting his family.
"We had a garage that had only two sides - the boys from the rugby team helped me build it," he said.
"We worked nights and weekends and then we finally bought our first machine - with a loan from the Development Finance Corp at 29 per cent interest.
"I struggled for many years and I nearly lost the business a few times through sharemarket crashes and global financial crises, et cetera."
The key change was when export markets - starting with Australia - opened up.
Lindsay says he, and the company he started, have been low-key, by choice.
Newell made the first approach in 2014, but the sticking point was his stipulation that the company's manufacturing base needed to remain in New Zealand.
He also had approaches from private equity companies who wanted the opportunity to list the business on the NZX.
In September, the E tu union accused the company of being a "sweatshop". Sistema responded by saying the factory operates on a 24/7 basis and all workers are given the opportunity to work shifts that best suit them and the company.
The company has a waiting list of people who want to work for it and invests a considerable amount in education for its employees, it said.
Lindsay said Newell had a commitment to keep manufacturing in New Zealand.
"They made that commitment because they knew I would not sell it otherwise."
Lindsay and his wife Jo like to take a low profile and will be remaining in New Zealand. At the moment, starting another business is not on the agenda. The couple, who are keen horse race supporters, are involved in charity work.
Lindsay will stay with the company during the transition, until April next year.
Under Newell, Lindsay said he was confident the business would double within three years.
"I never dreamed that the business would be as big a size that it is," he said.
"And I have never had that ambition. The ambition that I had when I started was to really feed my family," he said.
Lindsay admits his share of the sale price will be a big payday.
"Yes it is," he says. "It sounds funny, but that's not what it is actually about," he said.
"Now it's time to hand the baby on to somebody else."