Photo: Australian Institute of Business
Graeme Hart

New Zealand’s richest person is a one-time truck driver and high school dropout

Feb. 5, 2020
Graeme Hart was once a high school dropout working as an auto-body repairman and truck driver. Today he’s New Zealand’s richest person, thanks to a career in private equity, with a taste for super-yachts, submarines and superhero-themed pinball machines.

By Ben Stupples and Andrew Heathcote

(Bloomberg) – Graeme Hart was once a high school dropout working as an auto-body repairman and truck driver.

Today he’s New Zealand’s richest person, thanks to a career in private equity, with a taste for super-yachts, submarines and superhero-themed pinball machines.

Last week, his fortune got a boost after the stock-market debut of Reynolds Consumer Products Inc., the maker of Hefty trash bags and aluminum foil. The shares climbed 9.8% to close at $28.55 Friday, valuing his stake in the company at $4.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The advance continued Monday, with the stock rising an additional 3.7%.

Hart, 64, controls a majority stake in Reynolds through Rank Group, his Auckland-based private equity firm, and the consumer-goods business is his biggest asset. A spokeswoman for Rank declined to comment.

While Hart is among the world’s most private billionaires, he’s not shy about spending lavishly and is a serial buyer of super-yachts, including the 116-meter (381-feet) Ulysses. Valued at about $200 million, the vessel is spacious enough for a helipad and another smaller yacht on its front deck. One of his previous yachts, also named Ulysses, featured a Batman pinball machine, and a decommissioned U.S. Navy submarine lashed to the fore deck that provided an underwater getaway for as many as six people.

Hart dropped out of school in his mid-teens and worked as an auto-body repairman and truck driver. He later obtained an MBA from New Zealand’s University of Otago, where he formed the basis of his leveraged-buyout strategy for scores of deals he made over the past three decades. In a 2018 speech at his alma mater, Hart spelled out that strategy to graduating students.

“Be bold,” he said. “That means buy as big as you can, borrow as much as you can and then work the asset as hard as you can.”

Reynolds was formed by Rank Group in 2010, primarily through a combination of the Reynolds and Hefty businesses with Presto brands. The Lake Forest, Illinois-based company had net income of $135 million on revenue of $2.1 billion for the nine months through Sept. 30. Rank’s other assets include Pactiv, which supplies packaging for fast-food chains.

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