Bob Jones on self employment

Bob Jones produces another fine column, this time on self employment:

Most of my peers shot off at 15, into the labour-short factories then abundant in the Hutt Valley. My father wanted me to be a plumber, which he, a welder, viewed as an elite trade. My mother aspired for me simply to be a white-collar worker. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to do anything, so after several short-lived factory jobs, for a time I became a wharfie, where I was paid more than my father and mostly basked in the sun reading.

The work was substantially done back then by Bos Murphy’s Aotea gang, as they were known. Bos had returned from a professional boxing stint in Europe; its highlight: winning the Empire middleweight title in London. He secured a contract with the port, astonishing in those union-dominated days, and employed a small army of profit-sharing Dalmatians who ran from ship to ship – a classic example of incentive behaviour.

They were detested by my unionist fellow layabouts, who would mutter abuse when they passed, although never loudly for fear of Bos, notwithstanding him resembling a poet.

He died well off a few years ago, having been self-employed all of his life, as is common with most ex-boxers given the 100 per cent self-reliance of that loner’s pursuit. A restructuring along those lines might end Auckland’s waterfront woes to the satisfaction of all parties.

Yes, Local 13’s days of bullying everyone appear to be over.

Eventually, I solved my dilemma when I realised it was not the career options which were unattractive but instead, answering to others, which was implicit in employment. For example, when I was called up for the then three months’ compulsory military training, a stand-off ensued when I refused, explaining I was incapable of tolerating being shouted at.

It wasn’t belligerency but reality, and consistent with my similar refusal to do the then Tuesday afternoon army training at school for which I appeared in the school magazine’s military notes as a deserter. A like-minded mate spent most of his three months’ “service” in the brig, having repeatedly dropped officers for yelling at him. Like me, he was to be self-employed all his life. Anyway, before things could reach a head, the compulsory military rubbish was scrapped.

But here’s my point: while most folk are content being employed, a sizeable percentage with an independent streak are not. For them, there’s a special dignity in being their own masters even though it’s often fraught with worries.

Contrary to belief, they’re not primarily motivated by money but simply a desire to steer their own ship. There are hundreds of thousands of self-employed New Zealanders who wouldn’t have it otherwise. They’re farmers, retailers, tradesmen, professionals and diverse service providers.

Yes, steering one’s own ship…I get that.


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  • 2ndAmendment

    Contrary to belief, they’re not primarily motivated by money but simply a desire to steer their own ship. There are hundreds of thousands of self-employed New Zealanders who wouldn’t have it otherwise. They’re farmers, retailers, tradesmen, professionals and diverse service providers.

    And we constitute the 10% of Kiwis who actually pay nett taxes and consequently pay for everything for everyone else

    • farmgirl

      Absolutely correct. But I don’t think you are counting indirect taxes, like excise taxes and GST.

  • Changeiscoming

    Nice! I enjoyed reading that.
    As a person that was once self employed, I recommended highly, even though as Bob says “it’s often fraught with worries” it is highly rewarding and not just financially.
    And to the self employed ones that manage to reach the end of their working lives, put their feet up or maybe go on a few round the world trips because they have become financially independant even though they have had to pay more tax the whole time, I say good on you, well done and thank you.
    I also say ignore the people that call you “lucky” because you get to go on another trip or buy another car. The people that say that, are just bitter due to their boss being an ass or can’t understand why after years of hand outs, benefits or union enforced pay increases they are still broke, they just dont get it and most likely never will.

  • kevin

    Another aspect of self employment, is that after a suitably long time, say 20 years, one becomes unemployable… after making multi. mega decisions and dealing with all sorts, working for a boss becomes impossible to comprehend.

  • GregM

    Having been self employed for a year I can relate to what Bob is saying. I am working at least 14 hour days, six days a week, and I have never felt more motivated. Last month I even made a small profit ( $177.35 ) for the first time. It is a constant worry, I never seem to stop, but it is the most awesome feeling closing the office at 2 am and I think to myself “yeah, I got something done today”, Highly recommended, give it a go !

    • Gazzaw

      Good on you Greg, you’ll never regret it. I could have retired years ago & I’m in my 60s now – not going to though as it’s too much fun. I’ve scaled back a little and only handle the contracts that I want to & I am just investing in a new business startup by one of my really good ex-employees. Be ready for the resentment factor once you are successful from old mates who never had the balls to do it for themselves.

      • GregM

        Thanks Gazzaw. The odd thing is, a lot of the boys that left the Navy around the time I did, and who are now self employed, all say the same as I do.
        I think the discipline and the “never give up” attitude that was hammered into us certainly helps.

        • Lofty

          Good on you Greg,
          I have been self employed for 5 years now, and while it is bloody long hours, hard yakka for the most part, and staff problems are always around, I love it and would have it no other way now.
          I wish I had woken up earlier in life to the joy of growing a company & developing good staff,.
          PS when are you back In Tauranga??

          • GregM

            Not sure Lofty, the company leasing my boat has extended for three months. I think they like it.

          • Lofty

            Ok it is good that your wee boot is making money…that’s what it is all about. I will just have to wait…

        • farmgirl

          I bet the navy-acquired skills help too.

  • blazer

    more interested on Bob J on insider trading…first mover advantage.