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People: Tim Sole takes on a new puzzle

Friday, October 5th 2001, 9:23AM

It’s a good thing Tim Sole likes solving puzzles.

As acting chief executive of the Public Trust Office (PTO), Sole has the job of working out what the 128-yearold organisation will do in future.

The British-born actuary and chartered statistician, who writes puzzle books in his spare time, appears to be enjoying the challenge.

The shift to the public sector also seems to suit him after years running insurance companies Royal & SunAlliance Life, and State Insurance.

"I like the idea of working for the public service," says the 49-yearold, who came to New Zealand in 1986.

"If I can do a good job and provide a return for the Government that they can spend on other things, then that is a good thing."

He was also attracted by the PTO’s culture. "(Staff) don’t over-present themselves. They tend to be themselves and are very knowledgeable about what they do."

Sole became acting chief executive and acting Public Trustee this week. He will take full charge when Parliament passes the Public Trust Bill, which establishes the PTO as a statutory corporation.

The legislation will give the PTO the flexibility it needs to respond to a changing market, Sole says.

Currently, it must seek Cabinet approval for decisions as minor as changing interest rates – a time consuming process that makes it hard to stay competitive with banks.

Unlike many chief executives Sole, who is married with three children, says his days aren’t consumed by work.

He finds the time to indulge an interest in recreational mathematics and to write puzzle books. His most recent book, Nearly Impossible Brain Bafflers, was published in 1998 and sold 80,000 copies.

"It’s in Whitcoulls. It gets lots of shelf space, mostly 'cause I go in and rearrange the shelves."

In between running RSA, State and the present job, he has completed an MBA at Victoria and did the accounting exams "just for fun".

He’s also a past chairman of the Life Office Association and chairman of the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman Commission.

Since joining he has started conducting a review to decide what the organisation should do in future.

He’s also working on a five-year plan to turn around its financial fortunes – the PTO lost $8.5 million in the 1999-2000 financial year.

The thing the PTO is best know for, writing wills, is the reason for the loss, he says.

"Years of running a free will-writing service has drained the organisation’s resources."

That drain is expected to end once the new legislation is passed as the government will start paying it for the work.

Most people don’t realise just how good the trust is at writing wills and administering estates, Sole says.

In fact, he admits that when doing his own will and setting up a family trust earlier this year it didn’t occur to him to use the PTO.

Sole won’t comment on his plans for the organisation until he has completed his review.

Sole acknowledges that as a Crown company there is the ability to buy rivals or expand its range of financial services.

"It will give us more freedom to behave as we want to."

But he says the range of products is already very wide and the Government, which remains the owner, wants the organisation to stick to its knitting.

"This shareholder is pretty clear about what it wants from the Public Trust. It wants it to be active in the trustee market," he says.

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