By Wares May 26, 2016 Rolling back the years
Above: Selwyn Atkinson (centre) at the Philips reunion in March 2011, flanked by Russell Hartnoll and Merv Robertson (right).

Above: Selwyn Atkinson (centre) at the Philips reunion in March 2011, flanked by Russell Hartnoll and Merv Robertson (right).

Selwyn Atkinson slipped away on Monday. He was due to have his 88th birthday today, May 26. Merv Robertson reports.

Selwyn Atkinson cut his industry teeth with the old Christchurch-based Robert Francis Group (remember them?) which ran the Columbus Radio retail chain as well as a service operation.

A bloke called Noel Leeming was there at the time and he did OK too. Whereas Noel was a Service Technician, Selwyn pulled the purse strings.

In the mid-1960s, Sel, his wife Joy and the kids – David (6) and Philippa (4) – moved to Wellington where he joined Philips as Commercial Accountant.

Joy recalls that ahead of the appointment being confirmed, she too had to be interviewed so Philips management could be confident that as a couple, they were suitable and would "fit in"!

That was the start of a 25-year association with Philips which would see Selwyn take on no fewer than seven different roles and gain widespread respect, both within the company and across our industry.


Sorting out Philips' TV act

Since the advent of black & white television in 1960, Philips had established itself as market leader, even if its distribution policies were somewhat "creative". And, as the introduction of colour TV drew closer, the company understood it needed to clean up its act.

Selwyn Atkinson was seen as the man for the job so, in 1970, he became National Sales Manager, withdrew distribution from some of less conventional channels and presided over the triumphant launch of the famous Philips K9 colour TV range in 1973.

Also on his watch, the company surpassed sales of 50,000 Philishave electric shavers in a year for the first time with an estimated market share closer to 60% than 50.

This was a stat Selwyn relished trotting out whenever he got the chance.

However, soon after the K9 phenomenon had been established it was time for the next mission.

Before 1973 was over, the Atkinsons were in Auckland. Max Hunt, Managing Director of Pye, lured Selwyn north and he took up a head office position encompassing the dual responsibilities of both Company Secretary and GM Finance.

Sel was in a good place but in 1980 the Philips takeover of Pye was completed and all senior positions were consolidated into Group roles out of Philips, leaving him with a difficult choice.

In his mid-50s, it was a matter of whether to resign and start over or accept a lesser position in Wellington, which was the option he chose.


Back to Wellington with Philips

With Joy’s support they moved south again. Selwyn was now working in the Personnel Department with specific tasks around the integration of key Pye staff into the Philips organisation.

He became Personnel Manager when Graham Barnes departed and then "moved upstairs" into the role of General Manager Finance & Administration but, to be fair, I don’t think he was too comfortable in any of those positions.

The shift back to Philips head office was a whirlwind affair with three jobs in two years until, thankfully, Auckland became home again when he was appointed General Manager of Amalgamated Finance Limited (AFL), a 50-50 joint venture company owned by Philips and UDC Finance.

As one would expect, Sel did an outstanding job and AFL’s contribution to the Philips bottom line was significant.


Driven by excellence

In his work, Selwyn James Atkinson was driven by excellence, by the achievement of goals, but not by any means.

He was scrupulously fair, fiercely ethical and back then - you know what? - that counted.

Selwyn did not suffer fools. And, although his sudden, usually brief, outbursts when an individual’s actions failed to live up to standards were legendary, his fundamental nature was that of a gentleman.

He was in fact, a gentle man.

RIP Selwyn.

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