Forget movie mogul James Cameron or China's Shanghai Pinxin, America's Harvard University is among the largest foreign-owned landholders in New Zealand.
The big question is why the Harvard Management Company has bought almost 200,000 hectares at an estimated cost of almost $1 billion?
The non-profit organisation manages the world's largest education endowment fund, and helping drive it is Canterbury University forestry science graduate Andrew Wiltshire.
For a Kiwi now earning millions a year, the buy-up is both prudent and personal. But he won't talk about it.
Harvard senior communications director John Longbrake says the company rarely approves interviews. Others asked for comment did not respond.
The company has long been secretive. It leverages its non-profit staus to keep its dealings as quiet as possible, and even Harvard's own students complain they do not know what it does.
"The managers operate behind a veil of secrecy under the pretext of losing competitive financial advantage," student magazine The Crimson wrote.
But last week company chief executive Jane Mendillo hinted New Zealand might have an increasingly prominent role in a global portfolio with assets on five continents, and holding upwards of $40b.
"Natural resources are our favourite area," Mendillo told a conference in New York, explaining food, energy, road and infrastructure demand from the world's growing population meant natural resource investments were likely to pay big dividends in the future. Harvard also has expert staff, including those with advanced forestry degrees, to analyse such investments, Mendillo, who rarely speaks in public, said. She was almost certainly referring to Wiltshire, the man behind Harvard's interest in New Zealand.
In 2003 the company bought 162,000ha of Kaingaroa forestry estate from the Central North Island Forestry Partnership after it went into receivership.
Before his move to Boston, Wiltshire worked with Kaingaroa developers the New Zealand Forest Service, then became a partner in GMO Renewable Resources, now an investment adviser for Harvard.
The forestry estate had been on the market for about $1b, but the sale price was never disclosed. Harvard later sold a third of its holding to the NZ SuperFund.
Harvard's investment paid off. Last year making an 18.8 per cent annual return on its natural resource portfolio, which includes majority ownership of Kaingaroa's cutting rights.
Then, two years ago, Harvard bought Maniototo's Big Sky Dairy Farm for more than $28 million.
In 2001 it was touted to become New Zealand's first super dairy farm, running 6000 cows on 1600ha using supplementary feed. But it went into liquidation in 2009.
Earlier this year, the Harvard-owned company that manages the farm, reported a $4.87m profit.
The Harvard Management Company raises more money than any other non-profit organisation in the US with zero fundraising expenses.
In 2009 it raised $1.6b, most of it from wealthy graduates. And its investment managers have long been regarded as savvy operators who keep their future investments close to their chests.
It has not always been easy. After the global financial crisis Mendillo was forced to reposition the school's portfolio.
Harvard was so strapped for cash it asked Massachusetts for fast-track approval to borrow $2.5b.
Now it is rising again. And if the company's present thinking continues, New Zealand will continue to play a part in that rise.
- © Fairfax NZ News