Property developer Mark Gunton may have a fortune of $400 million-plus, but he still doesn't own an Auckland house. Prices are too high, he says, and his money is better used elsewhere.
"I'm not a richlister. I don't even own a house here. I can't afford one," says the businessman, whose wealth is believed to be in the $400m-$600m range, less debt.
"I don't own a house in Auckland because I see it as a poor use of capital. I just think I have better places to put it. It's in my business," he says.
In Auckland, Gunton lives in a rented apartment. "When I'm not in Auckland, I'm on the farm."
Station leaseholder, qualified valuer, shopping centre developer, apartment builder, big game hunter - Gunton has many aspects to his character.
As the Crown pastoral leaseholder of northern Southland's historic 13,777-hectare Argyle Station at Waikaia, he runs 50,000 stock units, including 12,500 ewes, 1250 cows and 3500 red deer hinds.
Deer are farmed for venison and velvet, the farm has an Angus stud operation and Gunton breeds "Romdales" - Perendale-Romney cross sheep - with a manager and up to five staff.
"We've been there for 15 years," says Gunton, who commutes to his other job on direct Auckland-Queenstown flights, driving the remaining 60km to or from the station.
"The worst part of the trip is getting from here to the airport," Gunton complains from his offices at Auckland's Westgate.
Gunton was raised in Glendowie. His father, Albert, was head chemist for Helena Rubinstein in New Zealand and his mother, Joyce, was an accountant. After getting University Entrance, he was unsure of his career choices so his parents encouraged him to follow his brother and attend Flock House agricultural training college at Bulls.
But "we said we didn't want to go and work on farms for the rest of our lives, so three of us decided to go to Lincoln."
There, he graduated with a life-changing agricultural commerce degree: "Then you are socially engineered to be a farmer. It's imbued in your DNA. I went to work for Lands & Survey in Hokitika, then the Valuation Department in Rotorua, then for the Canterbury Savings Bank as a rural lender for six years. I came back to Auckland and joined a valuation firm."
Gunton initially invested in Auckland housing, "buying a site, cutting off the back, building a second house", then with a group of others got into commercial real estate. His first big-time investment was a BNZ mortgagee sale of a New Lynn commercial building, bought for $600,000.
Syndication was used to expand, developing film studios at Henderson and The Hub shopping centre at Botany Downs. There were other shopping centre purchases: Westgate in the 1990s, Tauranga's Fraser Cove in 2001, Highbury in 2005 and Milford in 2006.
Now, by mid-winter this year, Gunton hopes to have his business trading on the NZX.
In a reverse takeover of the listed Bethunes Investments, Gunton's privately owned NZ Retail Property Group (NZRPG) could seek up to $100m to enable it to build more shops and as many as 300 high-rise apartments at Milford and redevelop Highbury at Birkenhead. The company also wants to realise its ambitions for Westgate, in Massey on Auckland's northwestern fringes, where as many as 2000 apartments are envisaged.
"The shares in NZRPG are estimated at approximately $400 million," said a March 9 NZX announcement.
Tim Preston of CM Partners is managing the listing process and says the company is exploring various capital-raising options, but nothing is decided.
"This is the biggest reverse takeover of a listed business in the NZX's history," Preston says.
Gunton says: "I own 99 per cent of NZRPG via a family trust. My mother's estate owns 1 per cent."
Early indications of the NZX moves are hopeful, he says, with international interest.
"There's been a wave of international capital and we've been approached by a number of parties from overseas saying they want to buy the business or parts of the business.
"We are uniquely poised for organic growth. We see mixed-use development being integral to get an opportunity to create capital. We could build 2000 apartments at Westgate. The total at Milford will be about 300."
Westgate's 56ha greenfields site is earmarked for a $1 billion expansion and 20 new shops were last month announced at Milford. Birkenhead will get a similar scale of retail expansion.
Gunton's listing plans aren't exactly new: NZRPG's float was widely tipped last decade and Gunton admits to having taken a tilt before. What is behind the planned float is his need for considerable capital.
"The banks - right now, there seems to be a reticence to be involved, particularly in residential," he says.
That makes him unhappy.
"We need 400,000 houses in Auckland. Who's going to fund them?"
Gunton's property empire isn't the only thing that has put him in the public eye. In 2013, he appeared on the front page of the Herald on Sunday, and in an article 'Rich-lister's shocking animal slaughter'. That featured a picture of him with a gun in Africa, standing over a dead bull elephant, and another behind a dead Nile crocodile.
Gunton is proud of being both an experienced farmer and keen hunter; right now, he is anticipating this weekend's opening of the duck season on his station.
"In terms of hunting in Africa, it's not black and white," he says. "My view is, I paid money to shoot an elephant, or whatever it is. I hunt. It's no different to me raising cattle and selling them at the meatworks.
"The animals who survive have an economic value. The fact of the matter is, people from the international community go and hunt in Africa and we take crocodiles and elephants. That money pays people to look after animals," he says, describing how he paid about $100,000 to shoot a bull elephant. "There were 250 people 'fed' on that elephant," he says, stressing the economic benefit to Africa. "You can't expect the African community to live in a zoo. They aspire, like everyone does."
Now, Gunton is aspiring to a much bigger empire from next month.
MARK KENNETH GUNTON
• Job: Founder/managing director/owner NZ Retail Property Group
• Age: 61
• Family: Partner Geraldene. Children in their 30s: Annabel, Andrew, Jeremy
• Lives: In rented Auckland premises and on a Southland deer, sheep and beef station
• Education: St Kentigern Boys' School, secondary at St Kentigern, Flock House, Lincoln University
• Assets: Westgate, Birkenhead's Highbury, Milford, Tauranga's Fraser Cove, lease on the Crown's 13,777ha Argyle Station
• Last book read: War With Russia by General Sir Richard Shirreff
• Last overseas holiday: Skiing with the family in Belvedere, France
• Last movie seen: Bridget Jones's Baby
• Advice: "Never rely on the charity of your kids. Plan for the day you die the day you earn your first dollar."