Business Leader of the Year: The contenders

Graeme Hart

The 2003 winner has booked gains on deals bedded down many years before. He has also taken new gambles that should, going by his past record, see him reap bountifully.

His private company, Rank, is in the final stages of selling out of consumer dairy business New Zealand Dairy Foods. He bought the business from Fonterra and a group of the dairy giant's shareholders in 2002 for $310 million then, in August, sold the assets back to Fonterra for $754 million. He was paid with $338 million in cash and $416 million in assets.

As part of a transaction with Hart's Australian food business Burns Philp, these assets are being folded into the shortly-to-be floated transtasman food giant Goodman Fielder. Once floated, Hart will book a profit of at least $240 million - not bad for three months' work.

And more profit will no doubt come Hart's way from Rank's $3.3 billion bid for forestry giant Carter Holt Harvey now in play.

Ralph Waters

The Fletcher Building boss (and last year's winner) has overseen another stellar year.

The company's AGM at the Langham Hotel last month was more like a gathering of a fan club than a shareholder meeting. Profits were up again - by 38 per cent - to $330 million.

With the shares still rising and infrastructure work starting to roll in to replace the declining number of construction jobs, the future still looks good despite a looming decline in home building.

Lloyd Morrison

The Infratil founder is a staunch promoter of New Zealand business. He presided over a rare example of a local company "buying back the family silver" when Infratil paid $250 million to buy the Stagecoach bus and ferry company from its British owners.

During the year, Infratil also expanded into oil and gas exploration through an investment in locally listed Austral Pacific. It also bought 90 per cent of Lubeck Airport in Germany and all of Kent International Airport in the UK, which had just gone into receivership.

Morrison's campaign to modernise the New Zealand flag didn't fly, but his enthusiasm for cultural and business endeavours makes him a popular member of the business scene.

Brent Impey

It has been a year in which opportunity and a booming ad market came together in harmony for the CanWest MediaWorks chief executive.

While continued demand for advertising helped the company report a full-year profit 90 per cent ahead of prospectus forecasts, and music channel C4 moved into the black, it was the news that Paul Holmes was leaving TVNZ for Prime that really opened the door for Impey.

His quick decision to launch a current affairs show with John Campbell and the unexpected benefits of that on the evening news were behind a ratings success that caused turmoil at TVNZ.

Maurice Prendergast

Pumpkin Patch has been an outstanding achiever since listing last year. It was the best performing initial public offering for 2004 with a 121 per cent jump from its offer price to its closing share price for that year, but it has been the company's steady - and so far successful - approach to international markets that makes it a standout.

The company more than tripled profits to $24.6 million in 2005 after a stellar year in Australia and would have become profitable in the UK had it not instead chosen to open new stores.

Although executive chairman Greg Muir has shown flair since joining the company in early 2004, Prendergast has nurtured one of the few New Zealand companies with true international ambitions as managing director since 1993.

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