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BusinessAugust 16, 2018

Notes from New Richland: Nine takeaways from the NBR Rich List


Today, the National Business Review, New Zealand’s most prestigious and weirdly-run business publication, published its annual Rich List. If you’re interested but not interested enough to subscribe, here are our biggest takeaways.

1. Graham Hart is way richer than Peter Thiel

Like, wayyyy richer. Two-and-a-half times richer. Putting aside how weird it feels to see Peter Thiel on this list, there’s something about how these tech billionaires can seem richer or more powerful than they are. I mean, if you believe in markets as the signifier of value in the world (and I assume the NBR believes in nothing so much as this), that means that Graham Hart, New Zealand’s richest ‘richlister’ is two-and-a-half times more powerful/right/good/important than Peter Thiel, which just seems… odd. Will leveraged buyout investors ever obtain the pop-cultural clout of the tech elite? We live in hope…

2. New Zealand’s wealthiest what exactly?

Here’s something I don’t understand about this list. There are individual people on it. Sure. Then there are couples. I get that – a married couple (excluding any formal agreement to do otherwise) basically share assets, so it makes sense to list them together. Then there are families. Like, say, the Smith family, who own a bunch of cranes and are apparently all brothers of MP Nick Smith. But then the NBR says that each of the three brothers owns a company worth “mega millions”. So why, if it’s three people with three companies, are they together? And what constitutes a family? Parents and children? Siblings? Cousins? Whānau? Oh, and then there are some business partners. That’s way too far. It’s not New Zealand’s most valuable businesses for Christ’s sake. Sorry Gary Baker & Ian Hong – owners of the New World next to Chaffers in Wellington – I’m splitting your $75 mil in two and, therefore, taking you off the list.

3. Property is a good investment

Hey… come here… shhh… I’ve got a hot investment tip for you. But don’t tell your mates, okay? Okay?

Property. It’s big. Of the 34 new entrants into the list of New Zealand’s 200+ wealthiest, 13 made (or make) their money from property. Shit, one of them started investing at 57 so if, like me, you’re in your thirties and propertyless (and in debt), don’t give up on your Rich List dreams just yet (nah, just kidding – we’re fucked. He was 57, but it was the 80s. Isn’t it great living in a rent seeker’s paradise?)

4. Supermarkets too

Seriously. Have a read of the profiles of the Rich List and it’s impossible not to come away with one lesson: other than property investment, an inheritance, or buying severely undervalued public assets, the best way to get rich in New Zealand is working your way up from stocking shelves to owning a supermarket. Five of the new entrants own supermarkets. And most of them only own one. No wonder food is so expensive here.

5. Where is the new technology?

Sure, Rod Drury is on the list. So is Sam Morgan. Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther too. But guess how many of the new entrants – the new money, the new ideas, the new ventures – are in the technology sector? Seriously, guess.

Zero. ZERO! (No I’m not counting Pat Huo of PB Tech, the electronics retailer, just because the company has ‘tech’ in the name.)

6. Sports doesn’t pay

The only sportspeople on the list are Russell Coutts and Steven Adams (who, with $50 million and bad luck in NBR’s sorting technique comes in last on the list, below all the other $50 million havers). For a “sports nation” that’s pretty grim TBH. So if your kid wants to be rich, tell them to go stock shelves on Saturday morning instead of playing soccer.

7. Salaries are for suckers

Of the new entrants on the list, only one – Don Braid, a “humble straight-shooter, determined and loyal” who has a “unique ‘bromance’ with Bruce Plested” (What?!? The NBR is fucking weird sometimes) – is a salaried executive. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess…

8. Ups and downs, strikes and gutters, bulls and bears

When you read about all these wealthy people it all seems a little too easy after a while. Capitalism is great! Work hard (or buy property) and you’ll be rewarded! But, before you start spending your future wealth, spare a thought for capitalism’s casualties. No, not the families living in cars – the people who have fallen off the list. The “delisted”.

There’s Peter Harris, an insurance guy, who had an “annus horribilis” which took his shareholding in CBL Corporation from being worth about $70 million to about $0. Harris was listed at $210 million last year, now he’s out of the list, meaning below $50 million. Eeesh!

9. Toys = ????

I have kids. The one-year-old doesn’t know anything about anything. He wants what his sister wants. And his sister, who is five, wants toys. Now, if you don’t have children, toys may induce a misty nostalgia, but as soon as you’ve been nagged for these things – and occasionally give in and buy them – you realise that toys should be on the controlled drugs list. Let’s compare, say, cocaine and the ubiquitous “surprise” toys that kids these days are going wild for. Both are unreasonably expensive, cheap to make, come from dodgy (at best) labour practices, can be dangerously addictive, and provide absolutely no sense of satisfaction. It’s no wonder then that the Mowbray family – owners of Zuru toys, which makes, among other things, Zuru 5 Surprise Balls – are they biggest risers on the list, up 233% (????) to a cool $1 billion. I can’t help but wonder how much of that used to be mine.

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