Print this page

Denis Adam, Insurance Tycoon, Philanthropist, RAF Pilot

  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size

German born businessman dominated insurance in South Seas

The death in his 95th year after a long illness of Denis Adam brings to an end the era in which astute and cultivated Europeans did so much to set the tone of post-World War 2 New Zealand. He was the last of the independent philanthropists and his endowments in creative arts in terms of awards and buildings remain a constant and visible reminder of his generosity.

His range of interests extended into many nooks and crannies of capital life. He was for example for many years an active member of the National Press Club. He is pictured receiving his Life Membership plaque from the club’s vice president Peter Bush.

His career was testimony to a singular application of his diverse skills and especially so in regard to what made sense commercially.

Early in his days in New Zealand he became the proprietor of a petrol station in Petone and it was here that he anticipated the growth in motor vehicle insurance.

This now became the foundation of his insurance broking business, a sector which he would come to dominate.

He rarely referred to his life prior to his arrival in New Zealand, other than to make an occasional wistful or ironic reference to his earlier days in relation to his subsequent career in the Antipodes.

His background was in fact extraordinary.

He was for example one of the handful of Germans in World War 2 flying with the RAF

Denis Frederick Adam was born in Germany in 1924 to a family of secular Jews.

At an early age he was sent to boarding school in Britain and he was to retain subsequently vestiges of a clipped British private school accent.

His parents followed him to Britain upon the ascendancy of Hitler,

As soon as he was able he joined the RAF. If anyone were to bring up the topic, he would be careful to point that his experience had been predominantly in Typhoons rather than in Spitfires.

Upon demobilisation he contemplated a career as a journalist, an idea he tested on his commanding officer.

“Don’t do that,” he was told. “At the end of your career you will have nothing to show for it.”

Having met a number of New Zealanders while serving in the RAF, it was now that he decided upon a mercantilist career and also to embark upon it in New Zealand.

He was the younger brother of Sir Ken Adam who was responsible for the film sets for the James Bond films and for those of Stanley Kubrick, among many others. .

Sir Ken Adam, also an RAF pilot, predeceased him by two years.

Denis Adam was a signature figure of the Wellington business district for many years operating out of his modest Adam Foundation office in the old DIC building.

Always immaculately attired in a three-piece business suit and a tan overcoat he drove himself to and fro in a classic era Rolls Royce.

In his office he made himself available to a wide selection of citizenry dispensing in his matter-of-fact manner advice, if called for, gathered from his own experience in so many different fields.

He was appointed OBE and CNZM.

He is survived by his widow Verna.