In 1976, after returning from the UK, I had set up, with partners Brian Pitts and Warwick Woodward, a recording company venture, RTC. We had started two retail stores, PEACHES, in Auckland at Queens Arcade and The Corner (where Whitcoulls now are): I had also gained New Zealand rights to distribute Virgin’s product in New Zealand, including The Sex Pistols and Mike Oldfield. Brian concentrated on the Virgin distribution and I looked after the retail outlets.
Realising we needed more product to make our distribution side stronger I approached Bill Smith, the Chairman of CBS Records Australia to see If we could get CBS for New Zealand. I knew Bill well from my days as Phonogram New Zealand Manager, the company that still had CBS under contract. After my sales pitch and over lunch, Bill gave me his decision: he would never, he said, put the CBS distribution in the hands of a young untried company such as ours. However I had sparked the idea of CBS going on their own in New Zealand and he invited me to join the organisation and set up CBS Records in New Zealand.
I declined Bill’s offer as I had an obligation to my partners. Bill said OK, but he wanted me for the job and would hold off for six months from making an appointment to the position. If in that time, I wanted the job, it was mine.
As it turned out, during those months I managed to sell the two retail record stores, PEACHES, to Phonogram. This just left the distribution side of RTC, which Brian was managing well; the way was clear for me to move.
So in late 1976 I commenced to set up CBS Records New Zealand. Initially we contracted just to take over only the product selection and stock control, promotion and marketing with Phonogram still handling retail sales and distribution. My staff, including me, numbered just five.
Just me and an empty office. The beginning of CBS Records New Zealand
Late 1977, with our first year in operation over and the company enjoying success, led by Meatloaf’s BAT OUT OF HELL and Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS, it was now time to take over the selling of product to retail ourselves from Phonogram and leave them with just the physical distribution from their Wellington warehouse. My first hiring was Judy Mason. When I managed Phonogram in the 60’s and early 70’s Judy was our Telephone Sales Representative and was still in that position at Phonogram. I had no hesitation in stealing Judy away from Phonogram: I wanted the best and Judy was the best in the business.
I then began to look for travelling sales representatives and needed two for the Auckland area.
I began interviewing my selected short list of candidates. One on the list is a Murray Thom, aged just 20, and at the appointed time he arrives. He is a wholesome and athletic looking young man and he presents himself with assurance and confidence. His out going personality is infectious and his questions unending. Murray’s questions show that he is intelligent and has depth in his thinking. He seeks answers that suggest his thirst for knowledge is insatiable. Among the things he wants to know is how artists get their royalties, what share they get; what are the other cost factors that make up the final retail price of a record. These are not questions the average person seeking a sales position would ask and I’m quietly impressed.
Murray Thom, early days at CBS Records New Zealand
I interview him (or he interviews me) for about two hours and I have no doubt this young man must join us. I offer Murray the position and he is surprised I have made such a quick decision as he has applied for several other positions and is still awaiting feedback.
Murray initially joins as our Auckland area sales representative and brings in extraordinary results and has an enthusiasm that rubs off on all at CBS. As we grow and need to add more sales staff he is my obvious choice to be our first Sales Manager. However, when I offer him the position he advises that as much as he would like the promotion, he has been selected to represent New Zealand at a sailing regatta in Estonia and would want to delay the move until his return. I advise him that I want him in the position immediately and he should think about putting his career first; I give him until next day to think it over.
Next day we meet and he advises that he is off to Estonia and he hopes I will keep the position open for him. I believe Murray to be a potentially remarkable leader and tell him yes, the job would wait for him.
I knew this young chap was clever but much later I realise just how clever. Thinking about my ultimatum to take the job now and put aside representing his country at yachting Murray decides to talk with my then wife De and seek her advice on the decision. Murray phones De and asked her what I would do if I were selected to represent New Zealand and was faced with such an ultimatum. De said to him, “If it was John, he would go to Estonia and expect to have the job too”. How right De was and how clever was Murray to do his research.
Murray was a dynamic Sales Manager and a major factor in our success; his endless zeal spread throughout his sales team and the company as a whole. On one occasion he was not happy with our Queen Street’s rep’s sales of our new releases so he went back with the rep to each shop and proceeded to double every order. He led by example.
As a promoter to radio Murray was unsurpassed and full of ideas. When Radio Hauraki wouldn’t play one of our new records he hired a cherry picker and appeared outside the Hauraki main studio, five floors up and facing their main broadcast studio. Murray tapped on the window to get Fred Botica, the breakfast DJ’s attention; in his hand was a sign “Please play XXXXX, it’s a hit!” I can’t remember what record it was but I know Radio Hauraki added it to their playlist.
Presenting Gold Discs to Mi-Sex, with Murray Thom, Sales Manager, and Gaynor Crawford, Publicity
Murray was always trying to increase his wealth and started dabbling in real estate. Within what seemed a very short time, he (along with new bride Anne) proudly showed us his stunning new home on Auckland’s North Shore. The home had spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and its purchase was probably Murray’s first big step towards becoming the financially secure and successful businessman/entrepreneur he is today.
One day in 1981 I get a call from Bill Smith and I’m asked to move to Australia, initially as Director of Marketing and shortly after to be appointed Managing Director. The only catch is he wants a decision now and he wants me in Sydney within a week. In my view, Murray is the logical successor to me in New Zealand, even though he was then only 23. When I suggested to Bill that Murray be given the position I was a little worried he would think Murray too young for such responsibility. To my surprise Bill said, “You are always raving on about how good young Murray is. So, if he’s that bloody good, then you had better give him the job”.
I called Murray into my office and advised him of my move to Australia and that he was now appointed to take over from me as MD for New Zealand. An excited Murray asked how long the handover would take and I still remember the shocked look on his face when I replied, “I’m gone this weekend so you take over on Monday”.
So at 23 years of age, Murray was appointed to Managing Director of CBS Records New Zealand. Murray took the company to continued growth, introduced revolutionary and creative marketing and soon was respected by CBS managers worldwide.
During my time at CBS New Zealand we had worked hard to make Pink Floyd’s THE WALL a number one selling album. Murray thought that even though sales of this album were massive, it still had not reached its potential; he set about re-working THE WALL to media and retail. Murray’s campaign doubled the already huge sales figure.
Murray was offered a key position by CBS UK, but turned that down, wanting to step out and work for himself. To everyone at CBS’s surprise, Murray left the company to start his own business. This business may have started from small beginnings but from day one Murray “thought big” and it was not long before he was showing me the spectacular views from his office in a prominent downtown building.
From this initial small business making CD carrier bags and dabbling in selling spa pools Murray, in 1987, won the government tender to introduce personalised plates to New Zealand. PERSONALISED PLATES was a huge success and Murray sold the business in 1997. Using skills, honed by managing CBS records, Murray set up Thom Music and began producing and marketing concept musical CDs in New Zealand and abroad, with sales figures that can only be described as extraordinary. Among the successful record sets from Murray is the historical and beautifully packaged THE GREAT NEW ZEALAND SONG BOOK.
Murray is now a sought after motivational speaker, is an Ambassador for Lexus New Zealand and has been named one of New Zealand’s Top Entrepreneurs of The Decade.