From infant typo to twilight senior

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Given that I began my life the victim of a fountain pen-scrawled typo, I suppose it was inevitable that an obsession with words would dominate my subsequent existence.

It’s amazing what you find when you clear out your possessions accumulated over a lifetime.

In my case, as the image below confirms, quite a long lifetime. As for the typo (courtesy of a no doubt well-meaning nurse at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand), it was the first but far from the last miscueing of my name. To this day – and despite the wonders of spellcheck – whenever we advertise a job, we’re sure to attract applicants who make the same error.

An early spelling lesson for the young Moodie. The incident left him with a lifelong horror of typos.

My final Blog of the year comes from London, where I’ve hunkered down for a couple of days to sort everything I left behind when making what at the time seemed like a temporary move to Hong Kong in late July 2020.

Was it really like this in July 2020? Oh yes, it was. As the pandemic raged, I am pictured about to depart Heathrow Airport with Qatar Airways en route to Hamad International and Hong Kong International airports.
From my AirBnB in Brentford, I can see The Old Pumping Station, home to The Moodie Davitt Report HQ until the pandemic struck in early 2020. Life, and location, would never be the same again. How good it is to see planes descending overhead into Heathrow with such great frequency once more.
We sure pumped out some great copy here. Actually, we still own these wonderful offices. Will we return? So much has changed in the past four years but who knows?

An early shot from the days when journalists depended on phones, not email, to generate stories. I am glad to say that today I use both.

Three and a half years on, that move has the ring of permanence around it, so happily and fruitfully have I settled in the Special Administrative Region.

At this twilight stage in my career it feels to me like everything was meant to lead to this final chapter, one that may hopefully run for a little while yet.

That feeling is confirmed by looking over my old school reports and assessments – pretty much hopeless at everything except English, history and debating (always an argumentative sod) in which I excelled – university papers, first journalistic articles and then the early evidence of my move from New Zealand to England on 23 April 1987.

Articles for drinks title Impact International ensued and some (oh what joy this gave me) for its sister title Wine Spectator, for which I travelled back to my homeland in the southern summer of 1987/1988 to prepare the US magazine’s first extensive coverage of the then-fledgling New Zealand industry.

This just goes to show you cannot trust a Headmaster’s opinion

So many memories. Including a cover story in October 1988 for Impact International featuring an interview with Bernard Arnault as he fought for control of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Arnault was then a fearless 39-year-old entrepreneur, who earlier that year had joined forces with British liquor company Guinness to take a 24 percent stake in the French luxury goods firm.

Perversely in hindsight, LVMH had been created in September 1987 through the merger of leathergoods house Louis Vuitton with Cognac-to-Champagne group Moët Hennessy as a mutually defensive move against potential takeovers.

Arnault’s foe was a formidable one, the 76-year-old patrician Henry Racamier, originally a steel magnate and husband of Odile Vuitton, the great-granddaughter of Louis Vuitton, who had founded the house in 1854. I interviewed Racamier too, racing around Paris on the back of a Vespa owned by independent French photographer Michel Setboun.

Michel got shots of Arnault and Racamier, while I chatted to them both, and later, scarcely believing our luck, we stopped to celebrate it with a glass or three of good French red. I was hooked.

“Could we take a photo Monsieur Arnault?” “Sure.” We couldn’t believe our luck. The battle for control of LVMH was raging but there could only be one winner. And we had the shot. I would next interview Mr Arnault some three decades later when writing Miller’s Tale, the biography of DFS Co-founder Bob Miller.
I remember the late Henri Racamier, pictured left, with great fondness for the time and respect he gave me. Having taken charge of Louis Vuitton in 1977 in an age of increased budget travel, Racamier focused on restoring the glamour of the journey with Louis Vuitton’s ornate, flat-topped trunks evoking the golden age of steam transport. “Mr Racamier seemed to have turned leather into gold,” wrote The Economist after Racamier died in 2003.
One of my earliest travel retail features from 1987. Recognise that handsome young chap on the right?

In early 1989 came the fateful call from one Doug Newhouse, the man I consider the pioneer of real travel retail journalism. He, too, had been at Impact International but had left for a hopeful start-up called Duty-Free News International launched by Vivian Raven (who sadly passed in 2016) and Julian Fox.

“Hello mate, we really like what you are doing. Off the record, we’d love you to join us as we’re growing fast. Fancy a chat?”

That chat – accompanied by I recall (almost) around seven pints of warm British ale – led to me jumping ship and joining what became universally known as DFNI, which rose to become the market leader in the early 1990s, a position it would retain for a decade and a half.

From Review Editor, I became Liquor Editor, then assumed editorship of the now-defunct Travel Retailer International (working alongside current Travel Retail Business Co-owner Nigel Hardy) before on 1 March 1992, my 36th birthday, becoming Editor of DFNI. This time my name was spelled right.

Nigel Hardy and me during our Travel Retailer International days. The photo is believed to be dated around 17 B.C.
‘Ahead of the rest’ was our long-running tagline at DFNI through the late 80s and 90s. And we were.

In 1996, Messrs Raven and Fox, seeing the projected (and ultimately realised) 1999 abolition of intra-European Union duty free as a fundamental threat to their business, sold DFNI to Euromoney. I was key to the succession plan, becoming a Managing Director for the first time in my career.

During the ensuing five years, I hired one Dermot Davitt as a graduate trainee (eventually fast-tracking him to become my successor as Editor), working alongside other stellar talent including Rebecca Mann, John Rimmer, (the tragically departed) Alex Smith, Toby Fox, Claire Wates, Mandy Sime, Michelle Lovett (now Michelle Davitt) and Bob Wilby. I learned (just about) how to run a business under the wise and expert tutelage of Richard Jell (now in his 70s our Publishing Consultant and still my mentor).

Euromoney and me were a marriage made in hell and in early 2002, as is now history, I embarked on this crazy journey called (initially) The Moodie Report.

The Moodie Report is born. No frills. No pictures. No subscription fee. No hope. said our rivals.
Fond memories of the Cannes rugby encounters between the Latin Lovers and the ragtag Rest of World selection, which adopted increasingly unlikely names each year ranging from the Sexy Saxons to the Travel Retail Terminators. I finally gave up the game after  breaking two ribs in the 2002 showdown.

Along the way, Dermot Davitt rejoined me (we became The Moodie Davitt Report in 2015) along with a bunch of other talented people who have been part of this amazing journey. I have told the story of the intervening years previously and will no doubt return to tell it in more detail as this career twilight eventually fades into darkness.

For now though, there is light aplenty, the clear-out is done, the clutter eliminated. A 67-year journey from Baby Moody to a twilight senior, but at least one with his name spelled correctly. ✈

Early steps: Our launch website may have been basic but it struck a chord with readers worldwide
  • What an amazing article and journey you have had Martin. You’re testimony to the importance of perseverance and humor to carry the story along!

    In some respects, our life experiences are similar. We were both born in non-English speaking countries (ok, you call it English in NZ, but we both know better don’t we…) but conquered that challenge. We relocated to another country and, after various missteps, landed in the best industry imaginable.

    Your passion for travel retail is comparable only to that silly sport the All Blacks play. A cynic might say that the actual reason you created The Moodie Report was to follow the team around whilst claiming the flights and accommodation as a tax deduction. But I digress…

    Thank you so very much for the lovely article you wrote about me recently. The exposure I received from being in The Moodie Davitt Report was incalculable and I’ve you to thank for this.

    The Moodie Davitt Report is the travel retail bible. Without your vision, the industry would be worse off so I applaud you for what you have achieved, and embrace you as one of the finest people in the industry.

    P.S. remember our pact, neither of us are allowed to retire!

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