Rich List departs from origins
Opinion & Analysis
OPINION: There's a common human foible that while people say they want news coverage to be investigative and in depth and cover the big stories of the day, what they actually read is more likely to be at the racier end of the scale.
The NBR's Rich List is a case in point. NBR uses valuations of listed shares, sales of private companies and the like to estimate wealth.
But at best the wealth of our most affluential and often influential Kiwis is a "calculated guess" given so many of their assets are hidden out of the public eye.
So there are some wrong numbers attributed to those ranked, some people not on the list who should be, those who would rather they weren't, and some who get offended when left off.
But it's a best effort by the business journalists on the information available and always a crowd-pleaser. This year has proven no exception.
The original intention behind the list, as I understand it, was to celebrate those who create wealth - the people who produce jobs and other economic benefit to New Zealand.
Which is why the inclusion this year of foreign investors here jars with me.
These individuals include Russian minerals and steel magnate Alexander Abramov who ranks at number one with an estimated $7 billion fortune (yes, billion), investor Julian Robertson (number 4 with $3b) who owns a number of luxury lodges and golf courses here, and Bill Foley (6th equal with $1.5b) who has added some New Zealand wineries to his Californian collection.
Foley's luxury lodge in the Wairarapa is just a quick helicopter ride away from the home-base of filmmaker James Cameron who ranked 11th equal with a mere $900m, the same as ex-patriate philanthropist Owen Glenn, ex-patriate Stephen Jennings and our very own Auckland-based lawyer and landlord Michael Friedlander.
As an aside, it's intriguing that Glenn was estimated to have $900m last year as well. Earlier this year he sold his US-based OTS Logistics Group for many millions of dollars yet ended up with the same estimated wealth this year. Go figure. Maybe he's given an awful lot away - he announced recently he was donating $80m towards the epidemic of child abuse in New Zealand.
Another Rich List newcomer is the Waikato-based billionaire Dowager Duchess Henrietta Bedford who has extensive New Zealand property interests and maintains close ties with the racing set.
Kiwi-born packaging magnate Graeme Hart, with an estimated wealth of $6b - down half a billion on last year, has been knocked off his long-time number one perch on the list with the inclusion of the foreign investors.
I'm not sure Hart will give a hoot but the top 10 ranking now has only three resident Kiwis and two of those are families - the Todds and the Goodmans.
NBR editor in chief Nevil Gibson argues the international section simply reflects the globalisation of wealth, given those included have invested parts of their fortunes in New Zealand or have substantial assets that given them residency rights.
He has a point. But in my view, their inclusion simply overshadows the wealth creation of New Zealanders which is what I thought it was all about.
The total value of the Rich List 2012 has risen from $42.2b to $57.7b but that's pretty meaningless given nearly all of those foreign investors included are billionaires who bump up the figure. It doesn't reflect whether New Zealand's business leaders are faring better or worse in the current economic climate.
And as I said at the outset, we all take a vicarious pleasure from the state of others' fortunes, especially ones that have more zeroes than our home phone numbers.
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