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At 38, Greg Olliver has risen to be one of the biggest risk-takers and deal-makers in Auckland property - but he still hasn't risen out of obscurity.

The former pupil of Hillmorton High, Christchurch, has evaded a public profile despite his private land bank company, Landco, doing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Ollie" does not figure on the social pages; he's not that sort of guy but from a business perspective, Olliver and Landco and their big-dollar deals are obscure in a different sense.

One question is, how much is Olliver making after he pays the finance houses - companies such as Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin's Elders Finance and Brian Fitzgerald's Strategic Finance - which have helped to bankroll him?

An investment banker: "The guy's seriously leveraged."

An Auckland real estate consultant - a cynical and informed observer - uncharitably describes Olliver as created as "a plaything of Strategic Finance". He highlight's Olliver's value ... to his funders.

Olliver is yet to feature on the National Business Review's Rich List.

He flashed into the news three days ago when the Business Herald reported Wellington's Todd Capital - an arm of the Todd family dynasty - was planning to buy into Landco for $125 million.

Observers are wondering how strong his bargaining position is with the Todds. It seems likely that returns for a business such as Landco will be "lumpy" rather than constant, so is his business in a phase when it is short of cash or rolling in it? Todd has already conducted due diligence.

The Business Herald picked up a few basic personal details about the not-so-talkative entrepreneur.

He is married to the former Sarah Sparks, a public relations consultant whose clients have included Watson and Hotchin's Hanover Group, the parent of Elders Finance.

The couple have a young family and they have lived in St Heliers.

He is known in Christchurch as a sportsman, from the days when he played senior rugby and cricket, and All Black scrum doctor Mike Cron is a family friend.

Asked about Olliver's business career, Cron says: "He had big balls, mate - that's the easiest way to describe what he's done. He's put them out there."

Cron says Olliver launched himself as an entrepreneur in Christchurch "and just kept buying and selling".

"He talked in millions and got there - full of admiration for the man."

News reports show a string of acquisitions this decade for Olliver and Landco, some of the bigger ones including Long Bay (2000), Mt Wellington quarry (2001) and Bankhouse Station down in Blenheim (2001).

Long Bay is the site of a regional park on the North Shore. Landco bought 198ha behind the park - a chunk called the Durafort block - from the Robinson family. Strategic Finance was publicly identified as a funder.

The North Shore City Council later paid $22.5 million to Landco for 38.5ha next to the northern end of the park and the Auckland Regional Council paid the company $7.9 million for a further 5.8ha for the park.

Olliver bought the 110ha quarry site at Lunn Ave in Mt Wellington for $38 million. Again, Strategic was identified as a funder.

The owners - Fletcher Building and Brierley Investments - had just lost a battle for council approval for a commercial and residential development.

The scale of the quarry venture is dramatic. It is one of the largest blocks of undeveloped land in Auckland.

The plans publicised have talked of a residential development with a completion value of $1.5 billion - housing 8000 people in up to 1000 apartments, 1000 stand-alone houses and 1000 terraced houses.

The Business Herald found in January - via an Overseas Investment Commission decision - that Fletcher Building planned to pay $299.8 million over a period of years to buy back 60.27ha of the site.

Fletcher chief executive Ralph Waters could see how this might look. Defending the sale and purchase, he said: "What did we sell? A quarry. What are we buying? Suburban sections with roading, sewage, power, lights and council approval.

"We're not a developer. It was the right thing to do, to sell it and buy it back.

"It's totally the wrong message to say ... we sold it for peanuts and we're paying hundreds of millions to buy it back again."

Incidentally, the OIC gave Fletcher permission to pay $80.4 million to two of the Landco companies - Landco Schnapper Rock Rd and Landco Albany - for 17.5ha of freehold land subdivided into 350 residential lots on Schnapper Rock Rd at Albany.

In the context of the quarry deal, that one tends to get treated as a footnote.

A National Business Review report in May 2001 said Landco had paid $20 million for Bankhouse Station, near Blenheim, described as a 3400ha property that included a homestead built in 1887.

The newspaper talked of speculation that Landco would develop "a grape-growing block that would rival the giant multinational wine companies".

Asked about the plans for the Marlborough site, Martin Gillion, the publisher of WineNZ magazine, says: "How do you spell gigantic?"

Four years later, the first wine to be produced from Bankhouse grapes - sauvignon blanc and pinot noir - is waiting to be bottled at a contract plant, but information is short on the development's progress.

Besides a range of residential developments, Landco's interests also include Landco Farming, described as an agribusiness with "substantial rural properties in the North and South islands".

A source familiar with Landco's planned deal with Todd Capital told the Business Herald that Todd's money would help the company to cut borrowings from finance companies - which charge more than banks - and pursue "aggressive" growth plans.

What else could Olliver be looking at?

The Business Herald was pondering one of Cron's comments - "I think he was looking at hydro dams, or some bloody thing, at one stage" - and then noticed the names of two Olliver companies registered in 2002: Hydroco and Landco Hydro.

On a different front, investment bankers say Olliver is interested in land up for grabs as part of Carter Holt Harvey's forest sell-off. Besides the cutting rights to 95,000ha of trees - about a third of the estate - CHH is selling 40,000ha of freehold land in North Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, and Hawke's Bay.

Alternative uses for chunks of the land include residential and lifestyle developments and lodges.

At Fletcher Building, a senior executive says: "He's got an appetite for deals - he's an ideas person."

Bill Burrill, a former Auckland City Council parks committee chairman: "We found him a pretty tough operator."