Who are New Zealand's IT Rich?

New Zealand's IT rich made it into the Rich List to the tune of $375 million, but they account only for 3% of the list's total value. The Wood family, whose wealth is estimated at $75 million, are the obvious high fliers - but who are the others?

They're in the money — to the tune of $375 million, according to National Business Review’s Rich List for 1999, yet they account for only 3% of the Rich List’s total value.

There are the familiar names: Eagle, Wood and Simpson, and others perhaps not so familiar: Fernyhough, Chapman and Jordan. They come from telecommunications, electronics, software development and investment backgrounds — some from a love of tinkering in the workshop and others from an objective analysis of the bottom line. But just who are New Zealand’s IT rich?

Eagle Technology has been around in its current form for nearly 15 years, growing from, in Trevor Eagle’s words, “16 concatenated companies” into a systems integrating, training, networking giant.

Eagle has, of course, been around for a lot longer.

At 67, Eagle is one of the longest-serving luminaries in New Zealand’s IT community. He was the first president of the Information Technology Association of New Zealand from 1988 to 1989. He worked for IBM and Woolworths as well as maintaining his own business since 1969. NBR puts Eagle’s worth at around $25 million.

The Wood family are the obvious high fliers of the List – making it into the top 10 families for the first time. NBR puts the family worth at around $75 million, although many remember the Woods from their early days.

“No longer is the Internet the realm of boffins and IT professionals,” wrote Phil Parent in 1995, referring to a new start-up ISP called The Internet Group. Apparently it had plans to “offer local access from all points in New Zealand”. Now the flat-rate pioneer has the third place spot behind Xtra and ClearNet, with its a satellite connection service, a deal with Sky TV and plans for the future that include digital TV, cheaper toll calls, buying into the Southern Cross cable and expanding its role in Australia. Sky Television’s purchase in May of 30% of the company is likely to have been the major contributor to the Wood family coffers, which NBR estimates at $75 million, the wealthiest of all the strictly-IT listings.

Murray Haszard has managed to slip back into the obscurity he seems to prefer. Not bad for a chap who sold his disk-cloning software Ghost to Symantec for $US27.5 million. These days Haszard has severed all his ties with Symantec and is working on his next project, rumoured to be an engine management system for cars.

Ghost wasn’t Haszard’s first success on the software development front. In 1993 Haszard was looking for a software publisher to pick up his Beam data transfer package. He eventually sold Beam for just under $US1 million.

His worth is put at $45 million.

In 1996 PC Direct founders Maurice Bryham and Sharon Hunter joined the Rich List for the first time, with an estimated worth of $16 million. Today they are still on the list – Bryham weighing in at $17 million and Hunter at $10 million. They sold control of PC Direct to US Office Products in 1996 for around $30 million. Office Products sold the local PC manufacturer to Gateway in 1998.

While Hunter is less involved in IT these days, as she is expecting her second child, Bryham has set up an electronic commerce venture, exo-net, with a number of ex-PC Direct members.

No list of New Zealand IT wealth would be complete without a South Islander or two and this year there are at least three.

Aoraki Corporation provides two – Gil Simpson and his co-creator of Linc, Peter Hoskins.

Hoskins left Cardinal, as it was then called, in 1990 and maintains he has no interests in software development. His worth is put at $12 million.

Simpson, however, is forging on with his Jade object-oriented software programming product, or as the Jade Web site says: “Jade is Australasia’s hottest software technology — the result of more than 10 years research and development by Australasia’s leading software technology organisation — Aoraki Corporation.” With credentials like that it’s no wonder Lancaster Park is now Jade Stadium. Simpson is listed at $36 million.

Sir Angus Tait is the third Mainlander on the list — his name is known throughout the world of mobile radios and Tait is known in New Zealand for his outspoken remarks over declining standards in education. NBR claims he is worth $40 million.

It is at this point that the list takes a turn for the obscure. Three names stand out from the millionaire crowd.

Dennis Chapman is one of only a handful of boffins on the List. Outspoken on issues like declining education standards, Chapman made his fortune after leaving Tait Communications to set up Swichtec, a Christchurch-based electronics firm which he sold last year for a reported $141 million.

Neville Jordan launched Marine Air Systems in 1975, floated it on Nasdaq in1997 and has now sold the company to Digital Microwave Technology, a US-based company that works, not surprisingly, in the microwave side of the telecommunications industry. NBR describes MAS as a company that “leads New Zealand’s export market” and estimates Jordan’s fortune at around $45 million.

John Fernyhough is worth a mere $25 million, but his investments span the markets from classic British motorcycles to biotechnology. His venture capital firm, Direct Capital Partners, specialised in investing in unlisted New Zealand companies. Since selling it, Fernyhough is reported to be working on “a hush-hush project aiming to do what few have been able to: make money out of the Internet”.

Finally, the richest family in New Zealand, the Todd dynasty, is worth a reported $1.8 billion. While most of their money is made from the energy sector, telecommunications has played a large part in their portfolio over the years. But Todd sold its shares in Australian telco AAPT as well as its 25% stake in Clear Communications earlier this year. John Todd, head of the family, says the family isn’t getting out of telecommunications entirely, and it has increased its shareholding in Sky TV to just over 10%. But Todd’s philosophy is for “low-risk, long-term” and telecommunications is simply too expensive.

“Some of these [telecommunications projects] require vast amounts of money,” says Todd, who points out that AAPT’s expansion path outstripped even his family’s ability to pay.

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