Henry Valder was born on 14 August 1862 at Southampton, Hampshire, England, the son of Mary Collingridge and her husband, George Valder, a corn merchant. Henry was educated at a church school in Winchester. His father's remarriage after the death of his mother in 1871 prompted Henry to emigrate to New Zealand.
Henry (or Harry) Valder arrived in 1881 and worked as a labourer in the King Country before joining J. W. Ellis as a partner in his Kihikihi store in 1884. They set up stores at Otorohanga, Tokaanu and Taupo. By the mid 1890s Valder was aggressively managing the general store of Ellis Brothers and Valder at Hunterville, where main trunk railway construction had boosted the local economy. In 1900 he sold his interest in the stores and returned to England. He married Ellen (Nellie) Green on 17 January 1901 at Edingthorpe, Maidstone, Kent. The couple were to have three daughters. In 1901 they sailed back to New Zealand, settling in Auckland before moving to Hamilton three years later.
In 1903 Valder went into partnership with the Otorohanga timber millers J. W. Ellis (his former business associate) and J. H. D. Burnand. Ellis and Burnand Limited became the largest sawmilling operation in the King Country. The establishment of a mill and box factory at Mangapehi in 1903, and a joinery, box factory and retail timber yard and headquarters in Hamilton in 1905, was followed by the construction of sawmills at Manunui and Ongarue and a plywood and veneer factory at Manunui in 1911. Valder had taught himself Maori and gained his interpreter's licence in 1889. He used the many Maori contacts he made to acquire milling rights. He was managing director of the company from 1908 until 1932, chairman of the board from 1918 until 1942, and a long-time district representative and vice president (1917–26) on the Dominion Federated Sawmillers' Association.
The elimination of industrial conflict between employer and worker became Henry Valder's lifelong passion. He developed a practical plan to give employees shares in profits and directorial control, which was published as Labour and capital: a co-partnership solution in 1922. The Companies Empowering Act endorsed his plan in 1924. Valder founded the Employee–Partnership Institute in 1927 with his solicitor friend Frederick de la Mare. He was its chairman and principal driving force, producing numerous publications, but was unable to introduce labour shares in Ellis and Burnand because he lacked a controlling interest in the company and support from the board. In 1927 the Waikato and King Country Press confirmed adoption of the scheme but it found little acceptance elsewhere. Employers feared losing power and profit, while unions feared the loss of worker solidarity. In 1940 Valder financed a five-year University of New Zealand Fellowship of Social Relations in Industry to ascertain the causes of industrial unrest and to suggest remedies. It culminated in Anthony Hare's Report on industrial relations in New Zealand in 1946.
Henry Valder served as the foundation president of the Rotary Club of Hamilton (1923–25) and as district governor (1932–33). He often wrote and spoke on the practical application of Rotary principles to business. He travelled overseas and served on the Rotary International Vocational Service Committee.
As chairman of the Waikato Social Welfare League in 1932 Valder advocated assisting the unemployed into agriculture. As secretary and co-founder with D. V. Bryant of the Waikato Land Settlement Society he helped to purchase three large blocks, to improve them using relief workers and to finance approved workers on to 50-acre farms. Valder frequently advanced strangers private loans for business and personal living expenses. As a financial adviser to Te Puea Herangi he lent her money in 1940 to purchase the 372-acre Ngaruawahia farm afterwards known as Turangawaewae estate.
Henry Valder planted many native trees in the spacious grounds of his riverside residence, Edingthorpe. He was a keen follower of cricket and enjoyed social tennis. Although not a religious man he attended the Anglican church because of the commitment of his wife, Ellen. She died on 2 June 1931. Henry married a widow, Marie (Daisy) Herbert (formerly Quelch) in Thames on 11 April 1934.
Henry Valder was a distinguished, yet unassuming man. He was a competent businessman who used his wealth to help others, and seized every opportunity to promote his ideals of industrial partnership. Official recognition came with the award of the Reconnaissance française by the French government, and his appointment as an OBE in 1948. He died suddenly at home on 12 February 1950, survived by his three daughters and second wife.