Who is Simon Henry? The man who insulted Nadia Lim

Risky territory seems to be a comfortable operating place for Simon Henry, the CEO who stunned the business world by calling celebrity chef Nadia Lim “a little bit of Eurasian fluff”, judging by his ventures in beekeeping and dangerous chemicals.

Having flown under the radar for years, Henry exploded into the headlines last week after mouthing off about Lim’s minor photo part in the prospectus for My Food Bag’s sharemarket listing last year.

He was being interviewed as a prospective candidate for the NBR list of wealthy people and abruptly swerved from discussing his DGL Group company’s listing on the NZX and ASX last year into an attack on Lim and the subsequent share price performance of My Food Bag.

Lim co-founded My Food Bag, and is an ambassador for the meal-kit company, having stepped down from its board some time ago.

Since his outburst, Henry has been variously described in investment circles on both sides of the Tasman as “a spiky character”, “difficult”, a self-promoting entrepreneur impervious to public opinion, and mostly someone who doesn’t feel answerable to anyone.

One market watcher said he had never seen anything “so naive” as Henry’s reading of “the world out there” in all his years in the investment sector.

“There were so many other ways to attack My Food Bag (performance)… why he would do it that way…”

Henry told NBR: “I can tell you, and you can quote me, when you’ve got Nadia Lim, when you’ve got a little bit of Eurasian fluff in the middle of your prospectus with a blouse unbuttoned showing some cleavage, and that’s what it takes to sell your scrip, then you know you’re in trouble.”

He continued: “Go back to that prospectus and find that photo. You know you’re in trouble. I mean, you know, when you got a TV celebrity showing off her sensuality to hock scrip, then you know you’re in trouble. The uglier the board, the more successful the share.”

Lim shows no cleavage in the photo and there are no buttons on her top.

Whether Henry is surprised by the outcry is anyone’s guess. He’s gone to ground. Details about his personal background are slim. He does not respond to requests for comment.

Henry grew up in Rangiora, near Christchurch, and, according to Companies Office records, now lives in Parnell, Auckland.

What is clear is that his DGL business has grown mostly by acquisitions on both sides of the Tasman. And with $100m in hand since DGL’s capital raising and listing last year, the shopping pace has been turbocharged, with five acquisitions and the purchase of 100 per cent of the share capital of two companies in the half year to December 31 alone.

DGL, formerly known as Dangerous Goods Logistics, is an Australian-registered company, based in Melbourne. It has an all-Australian board with the exception of Henry, who is an executive director as well as chief executive. He owns 57 per cent of DGL Group.

The fact he calls himself “sole shareholder” of DGL on the company’s website, despite it having NZX and ASX investors, says quite a lot about the person, one New Zealand corporate leader observed.

And the fact that it took three days of intense media scrutiny for the board to comment on his derogatory comments about Lim tends to cement the impression he sees himself as the company. As one market analyst observed, Henry has yet to get comfortable with the idea that a stock exchange listing comes with public scrutiny.

While a PR company-issued statement out of Australia on Friday night, May 6, said the DGL board had “conveyed its deep disappointment to Mr Henry” and that his comments were contrary to DGL culture.

Lim confirmed today that she received an emailed apology from Henry Tuesday night in which he acknowledged using “inappropriate language”.

Repeated Herald requests to speak to Henry and the board chairman have been ignored. Interestingly, the Sydney PR company handling media inquiries has emphasised it is acting for the board, not Henry.

So who is Henry, whose personal shares in DGL were – by his calculation, and before the Lim attack – worth $700 million?

That figure has not aged well in the ensuing publicity – this week more than $140m had been wiped off his personal share value as DGL’s share price plummeted. Henry is paid A$600,000 ($659,000) a year as DGL’s chief executive.

(In 2016 The Rich List reported Henry’s wealth to be $145m. It noted he was a keen tennis player, an avid reader and had travelled extensively in Asia and Europe.)

Henry has been reported as saying the lessons from his first business venture as a beekeeper and honey exporter were a constant reminder of the need to focus sharply on investment returns. He said the fundamentals of business had been drummed into him as a young man when he started with a single beehive and turned that into a business with 1400 hives in a “ranch style” operation. He said he built cheap beehives while competitors were spending big on infrastructure.

After the 1987 sharemarket crash, it’s reported, he got interested in property investment, buying commercial property in Christchurch and Wellington. Moving to Auckland, he bought more properties, and is reported to have built a property portfolio worth more than $100m.

An example of how he built his wealth was his sale of Christchurch’s former IRD building in Cashel Street to the Crown for $32m in 2013. Property records show the building sold in 2020 for $13m.

Henry’s foray into the chemicals industry came in 1999 when he bought a 3.6ha chemical logistics site in Wellington.

The DGL prospectus said this was the foundation asset “to service customers requiring the specialist provision of safe and compliant chemical supply chain management”.

In 2012, after securing the business of international water treatment and chemical distributor Ixom and Shell, the company expanded to Australia by buying listed company Hydromet Corporation in an off-market takeover. This added recycling and treatment capabilities to its services range.

Over the next six years DGL expanded its transport and treatment capabilities with acquisitions and further investment in logistics, smelter and recycling facilities.

In 2018, Henry acquired the Dangerous Goods Logistics business in Australia and the company’s name and branding was changed to DGL.

Its most recent acquisition is in Western Australia with the A$2.5m purchase of Total Coolant. It’s the third acquisition in WA in the past 12 months.

One of Henry’s acquisitions, of New Zealand company Chemsafe in 2015, has turned sour. Former Chemsafe founder and owner Rod Simmonds is reported to be seeking around $2.6m he alleges is still owed to him on the sale of the business and its assets to Henry in 2015. The case is due to be heard in the High Court at Auckland next month.

Meanwhile, DGL, which has three divisions, last month upped its earnings guidance for the 12 months ending June this year, forecasting ebitda (before deducting acquisition costs) of around $65m on sales revenue of $354m.

For the financial year 2021 it posted sales revenue of $196m, up 9 per cent on the previous financial year and 3 per cent higher than the prospectus forecast. Pro-formal net profit after tax was $11.3m, ahead of prospectus forecasts.

But Henry’s outburst has not escaped the attention of investors. The stock fell 4.57 per cent yesterday following a 15 per cent fall on Monday.

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