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Famous Faces in Business

Sir Robert Kerridge.

Robert James Kerridge was born in Christchurch on 1901. When he was five his parents gave him a magic lantern with which he staged a show for local children, charging them a penny each.

At age 15 he left school to study accountancy and he qualified as a junior accountant two years later. In 1918 the family moved to a Gisborne orchard. Robert worked as a real estate agent in Gisborne and also established a commercial college. In 1923 he became manager, and later the owner, of Wilkinson's Motor Company.

In 1926, with H B Williams as his partner and advisor, he started to buy theatres. Kerridge's first cinema, which he named The Regent, was in Gisborne. He purchased a second within a year and he soon controlled cinemas in Wairoa, Opotiki, Tauranga and Whakatane. By the time talking pictures arrived in 1929 he had sold his motor business and was operating 16 cinemas. A decade later, despite other owners being bankrupted by the depression, he controlled 26, including two in Auckland. In the 1940s Kerridge and his associates owned or controlled 133 cinemas, the biggest exhibition chain in New Zealand or Australia.

In 1946, in London, Robert sold 50% of his cinema business for almost 1 million pounds, plus the gift of a Rolls Royce. At this time cinema attendances were increasing every year. They peaked in 1960, the year the television arrived in New Zealand. That year there were 40 million ticket sales.

Kerridge had a wide range of other entrepreneurial interests. He organised New Zealand tours of overseas stars, promoted New Zealand's tourism industry, including hotel and resort construction, and he also financed retail development. In addition he was a generous benefactor to many causes.

In 1958 Kerridge was admitted to the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and he was knighted in 1962. He retired as Kerridge Odeon's Managing Director in 1976, aged 75.

Sir Robert Kerridge married three times. He died at his Auckland home in April 1979. The Kerridge name was synonymous with the motion picture exhibition in New Zealand for more than 50 years and Sir Robert became one of the country's wealthiest entrenpreneurs.