Some people don't do things by halves in this life, no matter what. From building up Wellington's reputation to establishing New Zealand's premier drawing prize, Chris Parkin is one such individual, heading at a million miles an hour (yet still outwardly at a leisurely pace). And he shows no sign of slowing down.
Where many might think that moving on from your hotel business may be a good reason to take it a bit slower, Chris Parkin continues his life just as busy and enthusiastic as ever. This Wellington businessman not only is getting his hands dirty, continuing to work on Wellington property, but is once again putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to his love of art and emerging talent. Since 2013, Chris has awarded $80,000 to artists in New Zealand as part of his open prize - the Parkin Drawing Prize. The award promotes excellence in drawing in all its forms and the winning entrant receives a prize of $20,000. The exhibition of finalists is held at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Queens Wharf, Wellington. And this year, he's doing it all again.
Who is Chris Parkin?
Patron of the arts, former hotelier, property developer and founder of the Parkin Drawing Prize, Chris Parkin is no ordinary businessman. Like the hotel that he’s best known for, Chris had been an establishment in Wellington for many years, yet keeps on thriving. He’s known for his vivacious thirst for life, success in business and incredible art collection which adorns the walls of the hotel (now the QT Museum Hotel). Since selling the hotel to Australian brand QT, Chris has continued to do what he’s always done, developing property and having the time of his life.
How did he get here?
Chris Parkin was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire. His family moved from England to New Zealand when he was 4, to Waikanae and then Otaki before Chris moved to Wellington as a university student in 1967. “I’ve been pretty much resident of Wellington ever since!” he says.
“I’ve been pretty much resident of Wellington ever since!”
Chris had no idea what he wanted to be growing up. He notes career advice was not the best. “If you were below average at school, sixty years ago, you became an electrician or a labourer or if you were female a teacher. Far fewer people went to university in those days. People tended to go into the education in those days to do what they were good at.” Unlike many of his peers, however, Chris did go to university at Victoria, starting his vocation, and love affair with Wellington.
“If you were below average at school, sixty years ago, you became an electrician or a labourer or if you were female a teacher. Far fewer people went to university in those days"
At University, Chris studied Geochemistry (of which he has a Master with honours) and a bachelor of commerce. While studying, his interest in business grew “I liked the notion of getting a business and growing it” Chris explains. “My first venture when I was a second-year student at Victoria University was to buy and renovate it with 2 flats. I paid $12,000 for it and sold it for $24,000 4 years later. I’ve been developing property more or less ever since.”
“My first venture when I was a second-year student at Victoria University was to buy and renovate it with 2 flats. I paid $12,000 for it and sold it for $24,000 4 years later"
Chris continued to come across property development opportunities which led him to develop the Museum Hotel. “When the Government came to develop the land to build Te Papa, the only building was a hotel on it,” Chris explains. “I offered to run the hotel and split the profits. When it was time to demolish the building a few years later, I made an offer to them for the whole thing - lock, stock and barrel. That was the start of my journey into the hotel business. I ended up having it for 25 years.”
“We had new foundations at the current site of the hotel that we connected them to. It was quite simple from an engineering perspective but to most people, it appeared quite a feat”
The hotel was physically moved across the road from Te Papa’s current site to where it sits today, earning its nickname ‘Hotel de Wheels’. “The lower level was car parking. We built a large railway carriage on wheels and cut away the foundations, placing it on the railway carriage” Chris explains. “We had new foundations at the current site of the hotel that we connected them to. It was quite simple from an engineering perspective but to most people, it appeared quite a feat”
If he’s a property developer, where did his passion for art come from?
“People who are often passionate about collecting art have no ability themselves. I've never met a collector yet who has!” Chris laughs. “I’m a magpie collector”, Chris says of his own style of collecting. “It’s been collected by someone who has very little intellectual appreciation of art but can afford to buy what he likes." Chris says of his own taste for art. "People come to the hotel and enjoy the pieces because of this. It appeals to the average person, which I like.” Chris think that people can’t be made to become art collectors - and a certain personality is attracted to it (unless as investments).
What is the Parkin Drawing Prize (the premiere drawing prize in New Zealand) and how did it come about?
“I’ve got a huge ego” Chris Parkin says entirely seriously “I like to be noticed and it's good for business if you’re noticed for the right reasons. I’ve always been able to combine helping the arts with good business growth.” Chris had seen the New South Wales drawing Prize, the Dobell Prize and been impressed. He noticed a gap in the market for a competition to focus attention on the arts and decided to set about establishing one. He hands the selection process over to the selected and experienced Judges who pick the highly commended works from the 400-500 entries, and a head Judge who selects the overall winner of the Grand Prize. Normally, Chris finds himself like everyone else finding out who wins on the night of the prize giving, where he awards the prize! "I'd strongly encourage people to enter" he says, smiling.
"[Entrepreneurs] need to be quick to change their path if they realise they need to. It's a combination of creativity and risk taking.”
What does he think of the popularity of entrepreneurship?
“Someone once said to me, that they wanted to go to university and learn how to be an entrepreneur,” Chris explains, “I think it's impossible to learn to be an entrepreneur. What you DO need is great flexibility so you can deal with issues when they come up. They need to be quick to change their path if they realise they need to. It's a combination of creativity and risk taking.”
Why did he sell the Museum Hotel to Australian brand ‘QT’?
“It didn’t hurt at all. When the timing is right and the money is right, it's a good thing to sell - the right opportunity at the right time” Chris says. “It took the day-to-day stress out of things - the repetition of running a business. I still live at the hotel. And every morning when I wake up I pinch myself. I am living a wonderful life, and if there is a more perfect state of being I’d be amazed.”
"I am living a wonderful life...The happiest people I know are those who feel a responsibility for others than themselves. That’s what I try and do.”
What does Chris like to do in his down time?
In his weekends, Chris and his wife retreat to the Wairarapa to their Martinborough home. In his down time, he enjoys Netflix. “I liked the Crown, despite finding the casting off at first” Chris muses “I’m also currently enjoying Suits. The best series I’ve watched in many years, however, was Breaking Bad. That was American Counter Culture at its best.” He also is a big fan of his wife, Kathy. “It’s just fantastic - she’s a huge part of the reason life is so good. It’s a story of true love!”
“Wellington is like living in a village and having all the facilities of a great city. I enjoy being able to travel, so in the depths of winter, I can go to a beach. But overall, I feel if you do well in the city like I have you have a responsibility to give back. The happiest people I know are those who feel a responsibility for others than themselves. That’s what I try and do.”