Business Leaders of the year: Graeme Hart

Deal maker

The Auckland based multi-billionaire could probably have won this award in any of the past three years, and in fact did in 2003 - ruling him out this year.

But in some respects 2006 has been his most active year yet.

In March, after paying more than $3.3 billion, Hart gained full control of Carter Holt Harvey. This year Carter Holt has also bought nine ITM hardware stores and sold its forest assets for $1.5 billion. It is now in talks to buy a mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and other beverage-packaging plants from International Paper for between US$500 million and US$600 million.

In May, Burns Philp sold Uncle Toby's business to Nestle for $1.1 billion and this week Hart sold Bluebird for $245 million. Last month he completed a full takeover of Burns Philp. This has been a year in which he has consolidated his business empire back under the umbrella of his personal investment company.

No more annoying shareholders, inquiring stock exchanges and public meetings for Mr Hart. But while the privatisation of his businesses will make it harder for the media to get all the financial detail of his transactions, the idea that he will suddenly disappear from the public radar seems highly unlikely.

Hart will have upwards of $12 billion to spend in 2008. So let the games begin.

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