I just love it when a good
Satirist does his thing
ClausCorp's chairman and chief executive
* Head office: North Pole
* Divorced from Mrs Claus
* Education: MBA Auckland University specialising in financial reporting and
control, and marketing for growth.
* Career: Founded ClausCorp 2000 years ago. Invented KiddyCheck, the automated
software to tell if children are naughty or nice. Has run into problems with
the loss of ClausCorp's distribution contract to Deutsche Post and the death of
trusted lieutenant Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.Key adviser to the United
States Department of Homeland Security
* Year ahead: Set to privatise The Warehouse and create The Warehouse-ClausCorp
Holdings. Eyeing a reverse-takeover of Wal-Mart.
The view from the 20th floor of the North Pole office of Santa Claus is one to
behold, even on a bad day.
From the penthouse that serves as his office and temporary home, Santa looks
down on most of the Arctic.
Far below is the seemingly tiny speck that is the headquarters of the gift
production and distribution empire he founded 20 centuries ago and where, until
a couple of years ago, he spent most of his working days.
But soon, he will no longer be able to spot the sprawling mirror-glass building
at the end of the rather-too-cutely-named The Giving Way. He and his loyal PA
for 6 centuries will move to an attractive but unassuming building in Takapuna,
The move will be a significant milestone, if market watchers are correct.
Santa's ClausCorp officially takes over and delists The Warehouse on January 1.
On that day, he will take up the role of chairman and chief executive officer
of The Warehouse-ClausCorp Holdings (NZ) Ltd.
Depending on who you believe, it is a disaster in the making or Claus' smartest
move since his introduction of KiddyCheck, the automated software that tells
whether children are naughty or nice.
But it may not stop there. The Business Herald understands that a complicated
reverse takeover of Wal-Mart is also an option for the combined behemoth,
creating an industry giant that will likely run into anti-competition problems
here and abroad.
In any case, ClausCorp's share price has rocketed, boosting the value of his 51
per cent share to more than $10 billion. Santa will hold 36 per cent of the
stock in TW-CC. The rest will be split between private equity firm Pacific
Equity Partners and Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, a long-term Claus backer.
Many analysts assumed Santa had long ago lost interest in the company he
founded with money left behind when Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the
Temple in Jerusalem.
Only last August columnist and Business Herald editor Christopher Niesche
predicted that, come Christmas, the bearded man would be retired.
Santa's recent moves have silenced the Grinches. "Sick of it? Sure, in the
Middle Ages things were a bit, well, ho ho ho hum, but you go through these
cold snaps. Ever since our invention of the digital watch massively increased
our earnings before interest and tax, I've been having a ball. A snowball."
But that success with mass-produced, high-margin electronic gadgets has led to
the sort of problems Saint Nick has spent a lifetime trying to avoid. Many of
the devices are said to last barely past Boxing Day, and the extra income led
to a management-heavy organisational structure that has only recently been
fixed, in anticipation of moving on The Warehouse.
Then there was the divorce. And the elf strike. And the recent death of trusted
lieutenant Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The strike of late 1999 wiped out Christmas for half of the world's qualifying
children, pushing ClausCorp to its current second place behind another Buffet
In an acrimonious split, Mrs Claus unsuccessfully claimed half his future
earnings and the entire back catalogue of the Beatles.
Rudolph's death in November still hurts.
"Obviously, I still miss him. If he had just listened to his friends if he had
not been so strong-headed well, he might still be here. Yes, I miss him, but
I'm also mad as hell. You could say he was my guiding light for many a
Christmas, but boy did he have a nose for trouble."
Rudolph, rumoured to be a heavy drinker, died in a "Movember" publicity stunt
that went wrong when he got his nose so bright too near a naked flame. The
coroner blamed a high level of alcohol on his breath.
ClausCorp's share price struggled in the aftermath, and tales of staff drinking
to excess and presents being unwrapped before Christmas Day also hurt the firm.
In spite of all this, Santa has emerged stronger than ever.
He says he is relaxed about his future. "When Rickard Gardell [PEP's Australian
managing director] approached me in August, I thought he was joking. But when I
considered the wider macro economic perspective, it started to make sense. The
Warehouse has a good history, no labour problems or damn elves to worry about,
and a fantastic online presence.
"The more I thought about it the more it was attractive. The combined firm will
do things I just couldn't do at ClausCorp. Jesus knows, I tried."
Presumably, the absence of his wife at The Warehouse is also an attraction. He
won't say, citing the pending legal action Mrs Claus has taken against her
dumping as chairwoman and spokesperson after the pair split.
She's on the record, though, as saying: "For that fat lout to fire me while I
was having a hard-earned rest on a yacht off Fiji - and to find out through the
media - is just crap. Well, really, where's the season of goodwill?"
Mrs Claus has since found some success running an IT consultancy with Slingshot
co-founder Annette Presley.
Santa says he gave up most of what he really enjoyed about his ClausCorp job
decades ago; there were too many children to individually work out who was
naughty or nice, and the advent of central heating and gas fires led to
distribution being contracted out to international delivery specialist Deutsche
"I remember the first time we used the automated system to determine
naughty-niceness. No one has ever really found out, but it didn't go quite
right - somehow every child in Australia was categorised as naughty.
"There were a lot of very upset wee fellas, but, I tell you, they all damn well
behaved themselves the next year."
To fill in the blank, and to re-orient himself for the modern business world,
Santa did an MBA at Auckland University, his bushy beard and bright red
clothing a humorous juxtaposition to the black-clad youths who were his classmates.
"I knew that unless we could expand Christmas to three or four times a year,
ClausCorp's future was limited. In the back of my mind, a takeover of some
other like-minded firm was percolating away."
Interestingly, Santa has always kept the Rakon-developed automated KiddyCheck
separate from ClausCorp. He expects it to remain so, but has now ruled out a
stock market float. His version four (V4) software is installed in most homes,
and was an early forerunner to the United States Department of Homeland
Security, to which Claus remains a key adviser.
"The Homeland Security role is an interesting one. Gosh, the things you learn.
Let's just say George W. Bush won't be getting any present from me for some
time. Neither will Ricky Ponting, for that matter.
"I feel passionately about people's right to privacy - in spite of the number
of homes I used to enter without being strictly invited in - so to have
developed KiddyCheck and have had it used by so many quasi-governmental
agencies was hard at first.
"Eventually I worked out that sometimes you just have to break a few eggs to
make an omelette - the safety of the people is more important than a few
"We have saved so many lives, and stopped so many potentially awful actions,
that I am proud of my involvement with Secretary Michael Chertoff's team."
So it seems that after all these years, all those presents, Santa's still
trying to do right by the little kids.
It's just now he has a profit margin in the region of 23 per cent.
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