Page 1: Biography
Malaghan, Leonard Aloysius Patrick
Dairy factory manager, ice-cream manufacturer, businessman, benefactor
This biography, written by Brian O'Brien, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Leonard Aloysius Patrick Malaghan was born in Queenstown on 18 February 1906, the son of Patrick Thomas Malaghan, a storeman, and his wife, Nellie Tucker. His father was a talented photographer – he later turned professional – but young Len developed interests of his own. At the age of nine he owned his first cow, and by 13 he owned five, selling and delivering their milk.
Malaghan left school at 14 to work in a cheese factory. Four years later he qualified as a cheese factory manager, and then ran a butter factory. In 1926 he applied for a senior position with the Dairy Division of the Department of Agriculture, but at 20 he was considered too young. Instead, the department offered him the opportunity to train under visiting American experts in ice-cream manufacture. After developing a new formula for ice cream, in 1931 Malaghan became manager of the Dunedin Ice Cream Manufacturing Company, makers of the Royal Ice Cream brand, but by 1935 he was determined to enter business on his own account.
One of his customers, Bert Hayman, had experience in selling ice cream, and he and Malaghan agreed to open a shop in Wellington selling only ice creams and milk shakes. They chose a shop in Manners Street and, confident of success, took a 10-year lease. Malaghan returned to Dunedin to wind up his business affairs, and on 29 August 1935, in Caversham, he married Ann Hamilton Millin; they were to have two sons and a daughter.
Hayman joined the Malaghans in Wellington shortly afterwards, and the two men set about establishing Health Foods Limited. A few weeks later the shop was opened by the minister of agriculture – a cheap and astute form of advertising. Hayman soon returned to Dunedin for business reasons, and Malaghan became the active partner in the firm. He showed his business acumen immediately: he was entitled to payment for the ice-cream formula he had brought to his former employers, but negotiated instead a supply of ice cream for one year at a very low rate.
The company’s brand name, Tip Top, soon became well known, profits were put back into the business and in March 1936 a second shop was opened in Lambton Quay, managed by Hayman’s brother Gordon and his wife. In May, Health Foods New Zealand was registered with a capital of £15,000. It acquired the Wellington shops and Bert’s shop in Dunedin, and began to expand into other areas. In July 1936 the Tip Top Ice Cream Company was registered as a manufacturing company and a factory was opened in Wellington. By 1938 they were ready to move into Auckland, with Bert and Len becoming the principal shareholders.
The loss of staff to the armed forces during the Second World War led to the closure of the company’s chain of milk bars. In the resulting company reorganisation, Bert Hayman took over the Auckland company, Malaghan assuming his shares in Wellington. The Wellington company remained private, financed personally by Malaghan, and in 1953 it moved its operations to a modern factory in Johnsonville. Tip Top grew into the largest manufacturer of ice cream in New Zealand, supplying retail outlets throughout the country. In 1960 the Auckland and Wellington companies merged as General Foods Corporation (New Zealand), with Malaghan as managing director. Six years later, in a mutual exchange of directors, he joined the board of J. Wattie Canneries, with which General Foods completed a merger in 1969.
Len Malaghan had interests in farming, roller-skating, and fly fishing, particularly in the central North Island. He developed Hodgkin’s disease in the early 1960s. Impressed with his medical treatment, in 1967 he and his wife made a gift of £200,000 worth of General Foods shares to the Wellington Medical Research Foundation. This was used to establish the Len and Ann Malaghan Medical Research Trust and the Wellington Cancer and Medical Research Institute, later renamed the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.
Len Malaghan died at his Khandallah home on 25 December 1967, survived by his wife and children. He was buried in Queenstown, where in 1971 the Malaghan Library was established with donations from the couple. He had also purchased a house there for the use of company staff. Ann Malaghan continued to support medical research after Len’s death, including a donation of equipment to the institute in 1986. She died in Auckland in 1991, and was buried alongside her husband.