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New Zealanders of the year: Gareth Morgan

By Carroll du Chateau

Economist and investment adviser Gareth Morgan puts his money where his mouth is. He once spent three years living in a bus while trying to perfect a system for picking winners in horse races (he didn't) and could be expected to take the money and run when he made serious money.

But Morgan has always despised what he calls the "proliferation of privilege". He had enough money, he said. He drove a Toyota Echo - wasn't into fancy cars (just powerful motorbikes). His four children had already had their inheritance in the form of their education, backed with Morgan and his wife Jo's training in the value of hard work, independence, the ability to take risks - "put their heads down and go for it".

Morgan helped his son Sam with TradeMe, "buying a couple of hoardings, funding a letterbox drop". He also lent him $75,000 when Sam needed to expand, and was delighted when Fairfax bought the company for $700 million.

Almost immediately, Morgan decided to give his $47 million share to charity. Not just any old charity - or New Zealanders wanting to pay off their mortgages - but to worthwhile charities here and abroad.

Nine months later, the Morgan Family Foundation is providing Gareth Morgan with the best fun he's had since his last motorbike trip across the United States.

Rather than handing out money to NGOs such as Oxfam or the Red Cross, most of the donations are going to Kiwis working on the front line in Africa, China and Asia.

"We're saying, 'We think you're fantastic. Here's some money to help you do it'," says Morgan.

A New Zealand-based charity, still at pilot stage, will supply cash rewards to schoolchildren who make the biggest improvement in academic, sporting, social and leadership categories over a year.

The money sits in a pile in Morgan's investment company, treated as just another client, then goes to charitable trusts as they need it. And yes, the interest rate is good: "I think some years it will go up faster than we can get it out the door."

But this first year, when the applications have come in fast and Morgan's attention is focused on setting up a series of projects across Africa that he can visit on his next motorbike safari, the money pile is definitely dwindling.

He has swapped the Echo for a Toyota hybrid (battery/petrol) SUV which saves money on fuel, does his bit for the environment and provides endless enjoyment as Morgan duels with his daughter to see who can get the most litres to the kilometre. (She's winning at 8.1 litres per 100km.)

He's proud of Sam. "It's good seeing him put his business ideas into practice, rather than being a theoretician. And it's given me a new thing to do."

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