Wright, Stephenson & Co Ltd

Date established
Date closed

Wright Stephenson & Co Ltd had its origins in 1861 when John T Wright and Robert M Robertson set up business in partnership as merchants, stock and station agents and wool brokers under the name Wright Robertson & Co in Dunedin. In 1865, John Stephenson joined the partnership and when Robertson retired in 1868 business was carried on under the name Wright, Stephenson & Co. The company was involved in livestock and wool auctioning, grain and seed merchandising and land sales.

Wright Stephenson & Co opened its first branch in Gore in 1891 and floated as a public company in 1906, also opening the first overseas branch in London in that year. Then, in 1908, the first North Island office was opened in Wellington. Expansion of the company by acquisition began in 1916, with the take over of W & G Turnbull & Co (est 1857) in Wellington and W Gunson & Co in Auckland, and was followed by many more mergers and acquisitions as the company grew.

In 1920 Wright Stephenson & Co opened fertiliser works in Auckland, making it one of the pioneers in the use of fertilisers. Another new business was begun in 1922 with the establishment of a stud stock and blood stock department, followed in 1927 by the beginning of trade in motor cars, the first diversification away from purely stock and station business. The retailing of electrical appliances was added to the range of company activities in 1937. Further additions were land development in 1945 and department stores in 1959, with the purchase of Wairarapa Farmers Co?op Association. In 1962 the company's first major involvement with manufacturing came with the acquisition of Morrison Industries, producers of motor mowers and bicycles.

In 1938 Wright Stephenson opened its first office in Australia.

The company's Chairman and Managing Director from 1970 until 1981 was Ronald Trotter (now Sir Ronald Trotter) and he was preceded by Sir Clifford Plimmer from 1953 to 1970. By 1971 Wright Stephenson had branches around New Zealand and was involved in a wide range of activities in addition to the stock and station business. Then, in January 1972, the merger of Wright Stephenson & Co with NMA Company of New Zealand Limited was announced.

NMA Company also had a long history in the stock and station industry, beginning as Russell Ritchie & Co in Dunedin in 1864. Like Wright Stephenson, NMA had grown steadily through acquisition and expansion and gradually diversified. In the 1920's the first of an extensive fishing fleet and freezers were established and the company pioneered the export of crayfish tails and became a leader in the industry. Meat exporting was another activity developed by the company.

A period of considerable growth in the 1950's saw NMA expand from a predominantly South Island company to full New Zealand coverage. The wide range of machinery activities in the company was consolidated under the control of MacEwans Machinery Limited and the manufacture of canvas goods and protective clothing was developed in two factories in Dunedin and Auckland.

In 1961 it took over one of the oldest stock and station businesses in the country, Levin & Co, which was established in 1840.

With the merger between Wright Stephenson and NMA, the directors sought a new name which would be "synonymous with the united, diversified and forward?looking character" and decided to name the new company, Challenge Corporation Limited.

In 1980, Challenge Corporation reported earnings of $22.5 million from sales of $929.6 million and its assets were $761.8 million.

In 1981 the Challenge Corporation Ltd merged with Fletcher Holdings Ltd & the company they jointly owned, Tasman Pulp & Paper Ltd to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd.

1993 Wrightson Limited was floated as publicly listed company on the New Zealand Stock exchange. The new Wrightson group included all of the companies in the sector: Wrightson NMA, Wrightson Farmers Finance, Challenge Livestock, Challenge Seeds, Agri-feeds and Wrightson Bloodstock