Peter Leitch: from Scrag End to Millionaires' Row

Peter Leitch, the no-nonsense, dyslexic son of a New Zealand coal miner, worked his way up from butcher's boy to head of an empire of 40 shops worth NZ$200m.

No-nonsense Kiwi Peter Leitch manages to get through virtually every curse word in the urban dictionary during the course of our interview. The 60-year-old drinks Lion Red "a man's beer" boasts six gold rings and, on the end of his left arm, shows off the fading tattoo of a skull with a snake thrust through it. He certainly doesn't fit the Dragons' Den stereotype of the suited, slick entrepreneur. "But then I'm not one. I'm just a butcher." Or The Mad Butcher, as his NZ$200m chain of butchers' stores is known across New Zealand.

The youngest of seven children, Leitch was born in a hard-nosed neighbourhood in Wellington to a coal miner from the west coast, "a pretty tough part of the country". Severely dyslexic "I still don't know my times tables" he left school at 15 and "just took any job that would come along". Initially a telegram boy, he later worked as a grave-digger at Purewa Cemetery in Auckland, before landing a job in a butcher's shop in Seatoun, a suburb of the capital city. "I got those jobs because nobody else went for them. Nobody wanted to be a butcher's boy."

Leitch, however, didn't get on with his boss. So he decided to go it alone. At the weekend, he and his wife Janice would drive around in a 1950s Morris Minor looking for a suitable site. Finally, they found one in 1967 in Mangere, just outside Auckland. The landlord, Harold Hill, was looking to fill an empty space in a block of stores. Unfortunately, Leitch was broke, and the interview didn't go that well.

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But a week later, Hill called and told Leitch: "You were the only one who was honest with me and told me you had no money. Everyone else tried to make out they were millionaires. Plus I sent my wife down to buy some meat off you in your own shop, and she said you were a lovely bloke." Laughing, Leitch says he replied, "She must have gone to the wrong f****** shop, mate." Even so, Hill lent Leitch the money to set up.

Two years later, a new landlord took over, raising the rent. Leitch couldn't afford it, so moved to vacant premises around the corner. "I learned two valuable lessons then. First of all, never believe what people tell you. Everyone said the new premises were condemned. I went to the council and found out they weren't." His second lesson was even more valuable. The new shop was on the main road, rather than a side street. And as Leitch quickly learned, "in retail, it's all about the three Ps: position, position, position".

The business began to grow as Leitch appeared on Radio Pacific, making zany bets on rugby league matches with the announcers. "No one else was doing it at the time. So they ended up calling me 'the mad butcher'." Noticing that the supermarkets were gaining a foothold by selling convenience products, Leitch began selling pre-packed cuts and servings of meat, as well as milk and bread. By 1981, he had opened two new stores in Auckland to compete with the rapidly expanding supermarkets. By 2000, he had 14 more shops, and last year, when he sold the chain to his son-in-law, he had almost 40 stores. "Money has never been an object with me. As much as I've made a few bob, my life was never about money, I just wanted to get a job."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and was a senior writer for MoneyWeek. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example digging into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.