Hayley Westenra the popera princess spurns family business

F E A T U R E S__S T O R Y
25th September 2004 (NZ Time)_

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BIG BUSINESS: Popera princess Hayley Westenra's soaring musical career has turned into big time business for her family.
The Press

Gerald Westenra was happy running a jewellery business before his teenage daughter's muscial interest spawned into a full scale international career. David King of The Press looks at the ins and outs of running the Hayley Westenra business.

Gerald Westenra has an urgent frock problem.

A courier parcel has arrived at the front door of his Christchurch home containing a couple of daughter Hayley's dresses.

The problem is they are meant to be in Perth, not Fendalton, where the 17-year-old popera princess is performing that night as part of her Australian tour with Andrea Bocelli.

She may be a singing sensation but she is also a teenager who leaves things behind and Hayley forgot to pack the dresses before leaving for Australia after the Tui awards in Auckland this week.

For dad it is just another problem to be solved as part of his role helping to run the Hayley Westenra empire.

That role is now a full-time one after deciding a year ago he could no longer juggle his jewellery partnership with helping to look after Hayley's career with wife Jill.

The 44-year-old started out as a manager at jewellery retailer Pascoes before qualifying as a gemologist and valuer and branching out on his own with partners Jack and Ilona Pawlowski.

Last year he decided he could no longer do justice to the business and sold out to concentrate on the new family business Hayley. He says he owes a lot to the Pawlowskis for their support, but he had to concentrate on Hayley.

"I was getting about six hours sleep a night and I was extremely stressed. My partner was essentially carrying me for a while and I felt uncomfortable about that."

Hayley travels all the time these days and her parents split the travelling duties with someone always on shift at home with her younger siblings Sophie and Isaac.

Hayley Westenra Promotions is a family business with mum, dad and Hayley listed as equal shareholders.

AdvertisementAdvertisementHayley's money is hers and mum and dad receive an income from Decca for their work.

"Without our input it would be more difficult for them, they would be employing sopmebody to do our job," Gerald Westenra says.

"The record company look after us as a family, money-wise just to keep us afloat. "

The work of Gerald and Jill Westenra was recognised on Thursday night with a special commendation at the Champion Canterbury business awards in Christchurch.

But the word business is something Gerald is not comfortable with.

"We don't see it as a business, but it is a business. We don't think about it like that."

The nub of the problem is the idea they are in any way exploiting their kids and it is clearly something that concerns him.

"We don't feel comfortable with the idea we are making money out of our children," he says.

"Hayley's money is her money. We obviously have to have a salary to survive. We have a business relationship with Hayley."

He says the Hayley business as it stands is profitable but won't talk specifics.

The next year or two, when all the promotion and concert performances overseas bear fruit and the new album come out, will be more so, he thinks.

There have been rumours in Christchurch of Westenra real estate empire overseas including a flat in Covent Garden but the reality is a modest suburban home on a back section.

The open plan dining and living area has morphed into a large office, with a computer and office equipment rubbing shoulders with a sewing machine, television and exercise equipment.

There's some Hayley paraphenalia but the main feature is a table dominated by dozens of photos of smiling little Westenras growing up.

There's a stereo of course and family cockatiel Zak oversees proceedings.

An ageing Mitsubishi Pajero sits in the drive and Westenra says there are no plans for any spending sprees.

The family home for the past 18 years is the only one Hayley has ever known and he says it is hugely important to her as her base.

He says they are a frugal family particularly Hayley who does not rank as a big spender but maybe one day he would like to move to a seaside home in Redcliffs where he grew up.

There is no business school for the music industry, and specialist lawyers and accountants are few and far between in New Zealand.

He says his business background gave him a good platform but it has been a Himalyan learning curve.

"You've just got to learn fast and learn on your feet. The most important thing is to ask (advice from) as many people as you can."

If there was ever an industry with a reputation for being full of sharks and rip off contracts it is the music business.

Westenra says signing a manager was one of the most difficult jobs.

"We didn't want to sign the wrong manager. A lot of people would have felt the pressure. . . when you are under pressure you can make mistakes but we held back until we found the right person."

That person is London manager Steve Abbott who has been aboard for a year.

The Westenras work in a co-management role with Mr Abbott who has a background in pop and classical music business as well as record industry management.

A real bonus is he has a family similar in age to the Westenras and the kids get along, Westenra says.

"We all decide things as a group. We treat him as part of the family and we have family meetings. He travels with Hayley most the time as well."

The Westenra business is a family democracy, where Hayley has the final say on everything.

"We run everything by her and advise her and the end call is hers."

While he says it is a democracy it appears there is also an element of parental veto built in as one of the checks and balances of all good governance systems, especially where there are teenagers involved.

"She is the type of person who will say yes to everything and will get run down."

"As has been the case throughout her life we've had to put the brakes on a few times."

"She has been the driver."

The Westenras are extremely sensitive about being labelled pushy parents and are aware of the odd bit of talk to that effect.

"Obviously we know behind our backs we are seen as pushy parents. You have to live with that."

He says the "pushy parent" label seems to stick in the entertainment business.

"Ironically if you are on the side of the rugby field yelling you are seen as a supportive parent."

Westenra sees it as part of the wider "tall poppy" syndrome which is just as prevalent in business as in normal.

"People have a lot of difficulty with success in New Zealand," he says.

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Article link thanks to Jon Voslo
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