The knight defends the proposed castle with ease, pressing five straight fingers onto the bespoke Sileni Estates boardroom table for every reason why AUT Millennium Hawke's Bay will transform the region.

The local version of AUT Millennium Institute of Sport and Health in Auckland, it will be "a lot more than bricks and mortar".

Hawke's Bay success in sport will lift community spirit and best-practice programmes lift health outcomes and leadership potential, as was happening in the Auckland institute where there were 300 elite athletes but 600,000 user-visits annually.

"I have been champing at the bit to do the equivalent in the community in which I now love, to give them something that will meet the undisputed need for a better system to support the talent that is here and health-improvement in the community," Sir Graeme Avery said.

Advertisement

The most destructive force in society was lack of self-esteem and pride, he said.

"Winning in sports can achieve that and the programmes we will run will get more underprivileged children " if I can give it that label " participating and succeeding in sport."

He doesn't need a legacy project, having transformed pharmacy publishing, founded the AUT Millennium Institute of Sport and Health and established a successful winery - Sileni exports to 83 countries. His 2014 knighthood was for services to business and sport and he was admitted to the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame the same year. As a 23-year-old, New Zealand's top pharmacy student talked himself into a Sydney job after seeing a need for independent editorial appraisal of new drugs.

He bought the company and wrote the 1976 textbook, Avery's Drug Treatment, which became a medical best seller. The company, Adis International, became a world authority on prescription medicines with offices worldwide. It was digitally nimble, winning a grant from the United Stated government for prescribing software in hospitals.

Sir Graeme sold Adis in 1996 and established Sileni Estates in 1997. Adis' turnover was $100 million and New Zealand wine exports $90 million.

Both his sons joined the business and like him are former athletes. Sir Graeme was a 400m runner and played first grade rugby in Sydney.

He has more than 45 years involvement in athletics at club, regional, national and international level and led the fundraising for the $85 million AUT Millennium Institute of Sport and Health in Auckland, home to High Performance Sport New Zealand.

He said effective sport and recreation programmes were "resource rich", requiring a dedicated building.

"The big beneficiary is the general person in the community - those using the community health and fitness club, the schools that come in to use it, the sports clubs based at the facility.

"Hawke's Bay will be the same. The numerically biggest number of users will be from the general community - schoolkids through to the elderly."

Existing sport clubs will be supported "with whatever is needed".

Local project collaborators are EIT and Sport Hawke's Bay, with the latter helping to create a cultural shift from people quitting sport in their teens.

"AUT Millennium Auckland now has two Olympic pools. The water polo club based there is running a very successful masters program. They are giving old farts like me a buoyancy vest and flippers so they can get around. That is a fun example of how different sports can adapt. Cricket is an excellent example of a sport where, if you can just can trundle your arm over, you can play."

He said there was an established link between mental and physical fitness.

"Healthcare tomorrow will be more preventive rather than the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff with the diseased patient. It's all about healthy lifestyles, proper eating, proper sleep, regular exercise.

"I hope that businesses will adopt some of those principles and have programs that we will run from the facility - get companies engaged with a corporate wellness program that makes employees more productive at work and tomorrow.

"I think a life/work balance can be one of the most difficult things to achieve."