One Question Quiz
Who will make the list? Spoiler: These four people will
Who will make the list? Spoiler: These four people will

SocietyMay 8, 2024

The Spinoff Power List: 50 New Zealanders you need to know

Who will make the list? Spoiler: These four people will
Who will make the list? Spoiler: These four people will

An objective list of the 50 most powerful people in New Zealand, as judged by the Spinoff Editorial Board.

It’s power list season, baby, and we want in on the action. Sure, there’s the rich list and the powerful “c-suite” list and the young people with power (hmmm) but here, finally, are the genuine 50 powerful New Zealanders to watch in 2024.

1. Graeme Hart

Graeme Hart is a billionaire and New Zealand’s richest person. Money is power and he has lots of it.

2. Mad’s neighbour who recently got a girlfriend

Editor Mad Chapman has lived next to a lovely, quiet young man for 18 months. Always polite, with a nod and a hello on the driveway, he seemed content. But in recent months he has been accompanied by an equally lovely young woman and their happiness is palpable, with much laughter heard through the walls. What is more powerful than love? It’s going to be a big year for Mad’s neighbour.

3. Abdalla from Camel Grill 

As the guy behind the counter of the excellent kebab shop on Wellington’s Dixon St, Abdalla is greeted as “bossman” by hundreds of customers per day, a clear indication of his power.

4. Francisco Hernandez 

The first Filipino ex-student politician with climate policy experience to enter the New Zealand parliament. 

5. The owners of Kita Cafe in Morningside

The Spinoff office is in Morningside and therefore its writers and editors heavily frequent the local eateries for lunch. In an internal ranking published in 2023, Kita Cafe took out the top spot, thanks in large part to their pies. And the people baking the pies and selling them are delightful. They are the most powerful people in Morningside and probably Auckland.

6. itscurlsbaby

Englishman living and vlogging in New Zealand. Has harnessed New Zealand’s weakness for receiving praise from an outsider through social media content that is effusive about the most mundane things the country has to offer, appealing directly to our national ego by telling us we have the best pies, fish and chips and fizzy drinks. Can pronounce te reo Māori better than 99% of Pākehā New Zealanders. 

7. Nikki Jenkins

Won gold in the vault at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, 1990. Don’t know what she’s been up to since, but continues to inspire the nation. 

8. Christopher Luxon

As the former president of Unilever Canada, Luxon is one of the most influential New Zealanders in international business. 

9. Guy who goes into a South Island bookshop to buy a single envelope 

Although not much is known about this mysterious Otago figure, his impact on the local stationery scene is legendary, entering one particular store as often as twice a week to buy a single plain envelope. Employees note that while he purchases an envelope, he never buys an accompanying stamp. Just what he uses the envelope for is unknown, as is the question: why doesn’t he simply buy a bulk pack of envelopes, saving himself time and money? But perhaps there’s something we could learn from this subsistence-level, needs-based approach to stationery acquisition, and the simple joys of leaving the house to run an errand. 

10. Rosemary Dempsey

Inventor of Kiwi onion dip. Not yet in Te Papa.

Rosemary Mount (nee Dempsey) and unnamed fan (Photo: JOSÉ BARBOSA)

11. Pianist and medieval musician Michael Stewart

If you wander into Wellington’s enormous pink cathedral on a Friday, you might be greeted by the expert tinkling of Michael Stewart. Each January he picks one long-dead composer and spends the year playing everything they’ve ever written. Lucky for all of us, in 2024 he is making his way through the back catalogue of Italian virtuoso Girolamo Frescobaldi, known for his “rigorous contrapuntal skill”, in a series of 10 recitals. The power of the man.

12. The woman who bikes up and down New North Road at the same time as Shanti 

Shanti Mathias’s affinity for New North Road is well documented. But there’s one character in her life that really defines the street: the woman who has the exact same cycle commute time as her, and is a slightly faster rider than the Spinoff employee. With an excellent Osprey backpack, faded waterproof cover, and practical leggings, she’s going fast, she’s getting places and she might just be an inspiration to the whole country. 

13. DJ Chick

You can’t miss DJ Chick, Christchurch’s “elite professional mobile disco”, in her branded van stopped at any given red light in the garden city. With over 20 years experience in everything from weddings to corporates to school functions, she appears to hold the keys to Christchurch’s nightlife and has well earned her place on this list of significant movers and shakers. Was once spotted applying perfect red lippy in her rearview mirror – an agile innovator through and through. 

14. Richard Hills

Forget the poll on possible mayoral candidates taken, *checks notes*, 18 months out from the next local body election, Hills has managed to get a review into the removal of a swathe of Auckland rubbish bins with a view to putting some back if needed. This is despite an impassioned op ed from a Spinoff writer arguing people were shits for complaining about the bin removals by leaving bags of dog shit where the old bins were. See also: his traffic direction instructions near the entrance of the new Kauri Glen path on the North Shore.

15. Troy Kingi

So. Many. Albums. So. Many. Genres.

16. The Hanmer Springs waiter who was asked ‘Do you know who I am?’ by Aaron Gilmore in 2013

Surely that’s enough to make it onto a list.

17. Tracy from Renters

Renters is a long-running TVNZ factual series that follows property managers around the country as they inspect untidy properties and evict unruly tenants. Tracy’s job takes her to parts of the country we wouldn’t otherwise see on television (suburban Invercargill), where she deals with the disappointment of discovering maggot-infested kitchens and unflushed toilets with an endless supply of sarcastic one-liners (“Nice to see they’ve tidied up for us… not!”). When most people think Renters they think the flame-haired Pru from The Good Girls in Christchurch, and justifiably so. But real fans know that Tracy is a star on the rise.

Tracy is bottom left. The others are not on this list.

18. Nigel the Lonely Gannet

Won the hearts of the world when his heart was won by a concrete gannet on Mana Island.

19. Nigel Richards

New Zealander famous for winning the French Scrabble championship despite not speaking French. Once cycled through the night from Christchurch to Dunedin to take part in a Scrabble tournament, where he won every game before cycling straight back home again. Widely considered the greatest Scrabble player of all time, he is the subject of dozens of videos on Scrabble YouTube, under which fans comment the catchphrase: “I see Nigel I click”.

20. The pedestrian crossings of Devonport 

Devonport pedestrians have twin pedestrian crossings on Devonport’s Victoria Road. Stopping traffic once is impressive. Being legally allowed to do it again about 50 metres up the road is powerful.

21. John and Bridgette More 

Co-owner/operators of Haywards, arguably New Zealand’s finest auction house. John is responsible for appraising items and ensuring that goods are picked up in a timely manner. Bridgette makes sure that all the vendors are paid and that the auction house runs smoothly and efficiently.

22. Phil Galley, Mr Hutt Valley 

His real estate billboards and radio ads loom over the Hutt Valley, a constant reminder of his watchful eye and ability to sell houses. Some say his influence even extends as far as Wellington and the Kāpiti Coast. 

23. Teenager who cut off Alex Casey in toilet queue, Riccarton Mall 

The only thing more powerful than cutting in front of a meek 32-year-old woman in the line to the toilet is somehow compelling her to apologise for it in the aftermath. We salute the moxie, the hustle and, of course, the chutzpah. 

24. James Cameron

He has a lot of money, some of which he may feel compelled to donate to a plucky local media company after seeing himself indirectly described here as a New Zealander.

25. Joan

Joan has voluntarily operated a school crossing on Auckland’s Meola Road for as long as anyone can remember. She was hospitalised with a broken leg and wrist after being hit by a car on the crossing in 2022 but returned to service, keeping children safe and improving everyone’s day.

26. Joan from Whitcoulls

Joan’s Picks are the national barometer of book success in New Zealand, and have been for decades(!). Who is Joan and how does she make her picks? We’d like to meet her one day.

27. Joan Withers

From Wikipedia: Joan Withers is a New Zealand businessperson and professional director. She is deputy chair on the board of TVNZ and is the chairwoman of Mercury Energy, and a member of the NZ Government’s Treasury Advisory Board.

Sounds pretty powerful.

28. Isaiah Tour, member of the month at the local gym 

This one hits close to home: Hex Work Productions video editor Isaiah Tour is a changemaker in the fitness space. Not only is he a founding, and fast, member of The Spinoff’s internal running club, but he’s also a Crossfit and gym aficionado who’s recently had his smiling face plastered on one of the biggest platforms at all: the wall of the local gym, where a panel of innovators and pathfinders have offered him the laurels of being a “member of the month”. 

29. The statue of young Ernest Rutherford in Brightwater

New Zealand’s greatest scientist tragically passed away 87 years ago, but aspiring nuclear physicists of all ages continue to be inspired by the terrifying statue of a four-year-old Ernest with the face of a grown man. 

30. The Spinoff Members

Those who enable power rankings must be at least as powerful as those ranked. This community of like-minded people value and love the diverse work we do and make it known by contributing to The Spinoff. 

You too can join this powerful group by making a donation or signing up today. *Insert Time Magazine Person of the Year cover that was just a mirror *

31. Hera Lindsay Bird’s former dentist

Nobody reading this list will be surprised to see the inclusion of Hera Lindsay Bird’s former dentist, surely one of the most powerful living figures in New Zealand memory. Although he has now retired, he is a notable figure, not only for his expertise in plaque removal and cavity filling, but his wonderful sense of humour, and many fascinating anecdotes, including the time he got in trouble with the SPCA for parachuting into a school fair dressed as Santa Claus with a live monkey strapped to his chest. No charges were pressed, as the monkey was unharmed. 

32. Sara Hirsch

It is Auckland-based writer Sara Hirsch’s birthday on Saturday. As recently noted on The Spinoff, it’s important to celebrate your birthday for three (or more) days. Happy birthday Sara. 

33. NZ Herald’s Media Insider

No one knows who he is, but the Media Insider continues to deliver invaluable scoops about New Zealand’s most powerful institutions. Will we ever discover the man behind this mysterious mask? Or maybe the true Insider was inside us all along. 

34. Jamie Arbuckle

He’s an MP and a councillor.

35. Carmel Sepuloni

She’s an MP and a contestant on Celebrity Treasure Island.

36. Jane’s dad

As a retired insurance agent, 89-year-old Victor Yee (father of head of podcasts Jane Yee) now busies himself as a power model, with streetwear brands clamouring to cast him. He is mostly deaf and pretty tech-illiterate so setting up and directing shoots with Victor is no doubt a challenge, but we think you’ll agree the results are worth the effort. 

37. Driver of Suzuki Swift wearing curly blue clown wig in St Martins, Christchurch

What was he doing and where was he going? Straight to our top 50 power list, that’s where. 

38. Kind Man

The kind man who works at Bona’s Thai Cuisine on Customs Street.

39. The G.I. Ant 

Beloved mascot of the Nelson Giants.

40. The border collie and its owner who go on evening walks through Morningside 

Frequent the fine streets of Morningside at just the right time on a weekday evening and you might spot this influencer double act: a border collie walking a human (or is it the other way around?), on the corner between Gribblehirst Park and the jacaranda tree. Their spirit of collaboration and cheerful wave to passing pedestrians is a reminder of how influence is magnified when we work, and walk, together. 

41. Peter Thiel

The quintessential New Zealander (sorry James Cameron).

Citizen Thiel, maker of money, not necessarily major payer of NZ tax (Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

42. The woman who runs the New Lynn Hospice Shop

Nobody who visits the New Lynn Hospice Shop can leave without having encountered its manager. Noted for singing loudly along with the radio (Classic Hits?) and often seen pushing a large trolley of donated items around the store, the New Lynn Hospice Shop manager is one of this country’s most powerful and mysterious figures.

43. Port Chalmers bus driver from 2014

One of the leading lights of the New Zealand public transport industry and a consummate customer service professional, this individual, whose name is sadly unknown, was briefly the bus driver for the Port Chalmers route, in 2014. There was a period of time where Dunedin bus drivers were able to select and broadcast their own music for the enjoyment of the listening public, and this pioneering driver took the opportunity to push the creative envelope and play happy hardcore on maximum volume, as early as 8.15am. He prized innovation in all forms, often challenging the established speed limit, and taking creative routes to his scheduled destinations. On his last day as a driver, a group of his friends all stood on a trailer at the top of the hillside, hooting and hollering as he drove past. 

44. Lisa Carrington

She’s eyeing up yet another medal at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Unbelievable.

45. Rita Ora

She’s here to stay. Unbelievable.

46. Duncan Greive

Founder of The Spinoff and a powerful voice in local media. [Note to eds: will remove once he’s out of the Google doc]

47. Ian Foster

Feel like he needs a local win.

48. Ruia Morrison

49. Kush – Mobil Mt Roskill

The cost of living is hitting hard and Kush works weekends behind the counter at a petrol station to supplement the income from his full-time job. Kush has the power to brighten the darkest of days (well, Sundays) and if you’re a regular, he’ll see you pull up and have what you want waiting at the counter before you walk in the door. Kush’s parents are arriving from India so he’ll be showing them around Aotearoa for a month, but after that, pop in to Mobil Mt Roskill (on a Sunday) to say hello.

50. The friends we made along the way

Keep going!