Bennie’s Journey: The Karori Kid Who Hit All The Right Notes

At Fairview Lifestyle Village, every resident’s history adds depth to our community’s fabric. Among these, Bennie’s story stands out as a story of dedication and innovation. A life lived to the fullest.

Born in 1933, amid the Great Depression, Bennie’s formative years in Karori, Wellington, were bathed in the sound of his mother’s concert piano rehearsals. This early exposure to music set the stage for his future, though he was unaware at the time. At age five, inspired by the early risers of his hometown, he dreamt of becoming a dustman, oblivious to the extraordinary path ahead.

A wartime move to Invercargill was a significant turning point for Bennie, ushering him into entrepreneurship at age seven. He quickly began to stand out by delivering groceries to local women, who, much like his mother, were eagerly awaiting the return of their loved ones from the war. When he wasn’t delivering groceries, he gathered pinecones from a nearby golf course and ventured into selling dried cocksfoot grass to seed merchants. This period was crucial for Bennie, teaching him the value of a shilling—a lesson that would prove invaluable throughout his life.

Bennie’s musical journey, initiated under his mother’s tutelage from a young age, led to a live broadcast by the tender age of ten. 

After high school, Bennie embarked on a career in broadcasting in Wellington, where his responsibilities included covering the Royal Tour in 1953. This role offered him a unique vantage point, working alongside Richard Dimbleby, the BBC commentator, to capture the excitement of the queen’s visit. His time during the tour wasn’t just about observation; it involved pioneering work in the studio, editing news on tape recorders, a new and revolutionary technology at the time.

Driven by his passion for music, Bennie moved to Auckland in 1957 to immerse himself in the city’s vibrant music scene. He arrived in a sports car of his creation, with a plywood body, showcasing his natural creativity and engineering prowess. Like many young musicians in their twenties, he encountered financial challenges, which led him to innovate. In the confines of his basement, he started crafting amplifiers. Initially, this was a means to an end, but soon it was clear that he was onto something. His amplifiers, renowned for their high quality and in high demand, laid the foundation for his very own Concord brand—a name that would soon become synonymous with unparalleled quality and innovation in sound amplification across New Zealand.

Concord’s inception was intertwined with Bennie’s personal life, particularly his meeting with Ces. Ces became his life partner and played an integral role in the burgeoning enterprise. Together, they navigated the challenges of building a business from the ground up. Their partnership was marked by frugality and a shared commitment to reinvesting in their vision, laying the groundwork for the brand’s expansion. Their efforts bore fruit when they acquired a property in Ellerslie, featuring enough space to house a factory. This strategic move facilitated the growth, allowing them to scale the production of guitar amplifiers and diversify into new products like guitar pickups, public address amplifiers, speaker units, business intercom units, and domestic stereo systems. 

As demand for Concord products surged, the pair found themselves at a crossroads, with the Ellerslie factory reaching its capacity. In 1962, they made a bold move, purchasing an industrial section in Northcote and constructing a 2.5-storey factory. This expansion was a testament to the brand’s success and a reflection of their vision for the future.

Bennie’s commitment to his business extended beyond the factory floor. He travelled extensively across New Zealand, collaborating with music dealers to establish a robust network of Concord dealerships. His evenings were spent performing with backing bands and solo acts, showcasing his undying passion for music and his dedication to promoting the brand.

Bennie’s dedication to community service shone through his active participation in the Northcote Rotary Club from 1965, where he took on various roles, including that of President, and was recognised with numerous awards for his contributions. 

At the factory, Bennie’s capacity for innovation was not limited to musical equipment; he designed and manufactured marine depth sounders, hospital nurse call systems, and automatic road marking machines, demonstrating a wide range of engineering skills. He mentored the talented engineers on his team. Among these was Peter Maire, now Sir Peter Maire, who founded Navman, eventually selling it for a substantial sum to an American firm. Other team members went on to establish what was, at the time, the largest recording studio for pop music in the country, while another ventured into providing sound systems for international bands touring New Zealand.

Amidst a recession and shifting industry dynamics, Bennie was approached by Plessey, a British communications rental company. Plessey aimed to leverage Bennie’s extensive expertise in sound systems and intercoms by acquiring his company. Seeing an opportunity for a change after years of entrepreneurship, Bennie accepted their offer and joined their team in Henderson. There, he led the development of new products, including public address systems tailored for factories and specialised intercom systems for prisons, the Glenbrook Steel Mill, supervising each project from inception to installation.

However, Bennie’s journey with Plessey hit a snag due to a lengthy restraint-of-trade agreement and the conservative financial strategies employed by the company’s accountants in England. This led to a significant overstock issue in the New Zealand business, prompting Plessey to offload £50,000 worth of stock, a huge sum in those days. Bennie saw an opportunity in this surplus, purchasing a substantial portion at a low price through a nominee. This strategic move allowed him to part ways with Plessey and re-enter the business world, utilising the purchased components. In a turn of events, Plessey had to buy back some of these parts, essential for their operations, at prices higher than Bennie’s purchase price.

Following this episode, Bennie’s expertise caught the attention of Autocrat Sanyo, a former client familiar with his work. They offered him a role as their new products manager, tasked with negotiating component supplies in Japan for their Mt Roskill factory’s assembly line. This role involved regular visits to Sanyo factories across Osaka, Tokyo, and Tottori, reflecting New Zealand’s regulations requiring local assembly of imported products. Bennie’s work with Autocrat Sanyo marked a new chapter in his career, showcasing his global influence and expertise in the tech industry.

Despite the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry in New Zealand, Bennie continued to innovate, eventually partnering with Roland to promote digital music keyboards. His entrepreneurial spirit shone through even in later years as he navigated the complexities of the digital music and printing industries.

Bennie’s life is also a story of deep family connections. He and Ces raised three children, Kerry, Darryl, and Martin, each achieving significant success in their respective fields. The couple’s move to Fairview Lifestyle Village in 2013, marked a new phase of life filled with music, family gatherings with their eight grandchildren, and continued engagement with the music community. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary at Fairview, a testament to their enduring partnership and shared journey.

Bennie’s legacy, from his early broadcasting days to his contributions to New Zealand’s music industry and beyond, reflects a life of creativity, innovation, and community engagement. His story, now woven into the fabric of Fairview Lifestyle Village, continues to inspire and resonate with all who hear it.