Billionaire's playground: Philanthropist's long love affair with country

By Michael Dickison

Julian Robertson owns Kauri Cliffs Golf Course Resort. Photo / Supplied
Julian Robertson owns Kauri Cliffs Golf Course Resort. Photo / Supplied

New York billionaire Julian Robertson considers himself part-Kiwi - and New Zealand has returned the affection with an honorary knighthood.

Mr Robertson, whose fortune is estimated at US$2.5 billion ($3 billion), has been a leading philanthropist and developer here.

He made his money at his hedge fund, Tiger Management, and in New Zealand owns top golfing resorts Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers and several wineries.

Recently Mr Robertson and his late wife, Josie, gifted 15 paintings to the Auckland Art Gallery on their deaths.

The paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse and Mondrian, are worth $115 million - more than it cost to refurbish and expand the gallery.

Josie died in June last year after a long battle with breast cancer.

One of his sons, Jay, lives in Queenstown with his New Zealand wife and runs the Robertson lodges here.

His charity, the Robertson Foundation, is setting up a version of Teach for America in New Zealand - Teach First - a programme that encourages university graduates into teaching for two years. John Hood, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Auckland and Oxford University, heads the Robertson Foundation.

Mr Robertson spoke to the Herald last year after being made an honorary knight.

"It was a very emotional experience for me because New Zealand was a real love affair between my wife and me and the country," Mr Robertson said.

They both adored New Zealand.

"I can't tell you the number of times she'd wake up in the morning and look outside and say, 'We're in paradise'."

His first visit was in 1978, when he dropped out of his job as an investment adviser to write a novel, taking Josie and two small boys, aged 4 and 1.

They lived in a house in Parnell above the White Heron Lodge.

But he said it had not been a wise decision at the time. "We shouldn't have gone. The children were too young. I didn't have enough money to suddenly leave my job."

He did not finish the novel, either, which was about a country hick going to the big city and loving it - "very autobiographical", he said.

JULIAN ROBERTSON

US$2.5 billion

- NZ Herald

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