Unexpected honour: Institute of Director's new distinguished fellow Barry Thomas


One of Queenstown’s most respected directors will tonight be conferred as a distinguished fellow by the Institute of Directors (IoD).

Barry Thomas, Mountain Scene founder, retired chartered accountant and former Skyline Enterprises chair of 33 years, will be honoured at a dinner at Queenstown’s Hotel St
Moritz tonight.

‘‘It’s nice to receive, but it was nothing I expected,’’ he says.

IoD chief executive Kirsten Patterson says Thomas, made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2018 for services to business and tourism, has made a significant contribution to Otago-Southland business and society, as well as nationally.

‘‘He exhibits the virtues a contemporary director should aspire to, and for many years has been a leading voice in governance across charitable and tourism organisations.’’

The recognition — IoD’s highest accolade, last presented in Queenstown in April to the late Sir Eion Edgar — is ‘‘just reward’’ for his ‘‘outstanding business leadership’’, she says.

Looking back: Former Mountain Scene editor Ryan Keen, left, pictured in 2012 with Scene founder Barry Thomas, centre, and his son, former Scene publisher, Richard looking over the paper’s first edition

Thomas, 76, arrived in Queenstown from Dunedin in 1969.

It was a different place, then — ‘‘you could drive down The Mall’’, he says.

‘Three good decisions’

But he ranks the decision to move here, where he eventually set up his own accountancy practice and was designated to handle all Skyline’s financials, ‘‘and thereupon some management aspects’’, as one of the most important three decisions he’s made, business-wise.

The first, he says, was going to university to study accountancy, despite his father telling him most just went to polytech for that.

‘‘I had some of the most outstanding lecturers, who were all in commercial practices in Dunedin.

‘‘Reid Jackson, Jim Valentine, Scott Gilkison, Hugh Ross and others.

‘‘I learned a lot.’’

Distinguished career: Barry Thomas in 1988

His second good decision was taking a position with Dunedin’s W.Gregg & Co, coffee and spice manufacturers in Dunedin, run by the Baker brothers, one of whom was a chartered accountant, one a qualified chemist and one a qualified engineer.

Thomas says the ‘‘public, unlisted company’’ operated in the same manner as if it was listed, so after he was appointed to the Skyline board in ’75, soon taking on the chairmanship when he was 32, he ‘‘modelled Skyline on the same type of platform’’.

Under his leadership, Skyline grew to a market capitalisation of $780 million, employing more than 1000 full-time staff.

He says semi-publicly listing has paid dividends.

‘‘It doesn’t require the same interrogation that being listed would have and it suits the company and shareholders.

‘‘Some shareholders argued that the share price would have been different if we were on the listed market, but in actual fact, that’s not correct and these Skyline shares actually hit
about $26 before this pandemic.’’

On a call from shareholders Cath Gilmour and John Hilhorst earlier this year to return the 2020 wage subsidy, Thomas thinks that was ‘‘rubbish’’.

He contends that money went to employees, helping them keep food on the table.

Further, Skyline’s paid ‘‘a huge amount of tax and GST’’, he says.

‘‘End of story.’’

Targeted tourism’s “rubbish”

Thomas is confident Skyline’s future is secure, thanks in part to its diversified portfolio, which includes tourism attractions here and overseas and other property interests.

He also has unfettered faith in the future of the tourism industry in general, with one caveat.

‘‘I don’t agree, at all, to just targeting high-end tourists to New Zealand.

‘‘Anyone who can afford to get to NZ is a good tourist.

‘‘I hear some of these people say, ‘it’s a good time to re-jig NZ tourism and we can just take the people we want’.

‘‘That’s rubbish.

‘‘We need everybody who can afford to get here.’’