MONTE CARLO - South African businessman Bill Lynch has been named the 2006 Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year.

Irish-born Lynch, who built Imperial Holdings into South Africa's largest transport and mobility conglomerate after arriving there in 1971 with just £2000 and no job, was picked from a field of 32 national winners in the sixth annual World Entrepreneur of the Year Competition.

Today Imperial Holdings has annual revenues of €6.5 billion ($13 billion) and employs 36,000 people on three continents.

New Zealand was represented at the three-day event that attracted hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the world by winemaker George Fistonich.

His company, Villa Maria Estate, which also began in modest circumstances in 1961, is the largest privately owned winery in New Zealand, with vineyards in Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Marlborough and Mangere. It also owns the Vidals and Esk Valley brands.

Villa Maria now produces 750,000 cases of wine each year, exports its products to more than 50 countries and employs 230 workers.

Judging panel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder of Bharti Enterprises and 2004 India entrepreneur of the year, said Lynch was the epitome of an entrepreneur.

"He started with nothing but grew an amazing business over 30 years and today makes a huge positive impact in South Africa ... through the training, education and other community support Imperial provides."