NZ's richest man climbs world's billionaire's list

New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart has scorched up the rankings of the world's billionaires, according to Forbes Magazine.

The 53-year-old's estimated worth this year was US$4.5 ($9) billion, down from US$5.1b last year, but he has risen to 110th place from 201st, according to the World's Billionaires 2009 list, which was released today.

Forbes Magazine said it was a tough year for the richest people in the world. Last year there were 1125 billionaires but this year there are just 793.

Mr Hart now tops the 10 Australians on the list, which is led by Westfield Group chairman Frank Lowy, who has a fortune of US$2.7b and a ranking of 234.

There were two other New Zealanders still on the list after Moscow-based investment banker Stephen Jennings slipped off. Mr Jennings made No 1014 last year.

Investment company-owning brothers Richard and Christopher Chandler made the list for the first time last year at No 707 with a mere US$1.7b.

Their worth has now dropped to US$1b each but they have crept up half a dozen places to both be at No 701.

The brothers were raised on a New Zealand farm by a Croatian mother and a father who once worked as a beekeeper before founding a department store.

They made their first fortune when they invested proceeds from selling their parents' department store in Hong Kong real estate.

They went their separate ways amicably in late 2006 with each taking half the assets.

Christopher Chandler, 49, now lives in Dubai and heads all-in-one billion-dollar investment firm, venture fund and think tank, Legatum.

Richard Chandler, 50, lives in Monaco and founded Orient Global in Singapore. He continues his focus on value investments in emerging markets with emphasis on social returns, Forbes said.

Richard recently set up US$100 million fund aimed at improving education in the developing world, beginning with India.

He also lent his artist mother a reported US$4 million to open Manhattan gallery for her paintings.

Forbes described Mr Hart as the "master of the leveraged buyout", who once drove a tow truck and is now the richest person in Australia and New Zealand.

"Despite a reputed affinity for leverage, still managed to have cash last year for dealmaking: in May his Rank Group bought troubled US forestry company Weyerhaeuser's Australian timber assets for US$250 million," the magazine said.

Mr Hart now has five companies in the industry, all bought within past three years, including Carter Holt Harvey, Swiss packager SIG, Alcoa's former packaging unit and a North Carolina paper mill.

Mr Hart drew up the idea for Rank Group as an MBA student at Otago University.

He lives in Auckland, is a boating enthusiast and owns he 190-foot yacht Ulysses.

The overall billionaires list was headed, in order, by Microsoft founder Bill Gates with US$40 billion, Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffett with US$37 billion and Mexican telecoms boss Carlos Slim Helu on US$35 billion.

- NZPA

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