Key Points:

These are hardly boon times for business, with few industries escaping the effects of the global financial meltdown. Despite the present doom and gloom, here's a list of ten who have survived and thrived over the past decade, all in very different fields - from banking to dairy farming, and from telecommunications to retailing.

1. Graeme Hart

It's slightly ironic that the number one position on our list is taken by someone whose most notable trait is to actively avoid the limelight in any way.

Advertisement

However, Graeme Hart's business achievements are so quintessentially global that few could quibble with his status atop any list of kiwi business performers.

53-year old Hart is reported to be the richest person in New Zealand with a personal fortune of $6.1 billion, according to the 2008 Forbes rich list.

Hart has a preference for buying under-performing companies, primarily in the packaging industry, which can be turned around through strong management, cost-cutting and integration with other businesses.

In this country his 2006 purchase of Carter Holt Harvey brought him into sharp focus.

Rank Group is Hart's private investment company, the 100 per cent owner of Burns Philp and Carter Holt Harvey. Rank had assets of approximately $3bn in cash after selling the assets of Burns Philp and floating Goodman Fielder in 2004.

2006 saw the beginning of a staggering period of acquisitions by Hart and Rank.

He purchased International Paper's drinks packaging business Evergreen Packaging for $725m. In May 2007 he bought Swiss packaging company SIG for $3.2bn. The SIG Division Combibloc is the second largest food and drink carton packaging company in the world after Swedish giant Tetra Laval.

In December 2006, Hart completed a A$1.6bn takeover of the 42 per cent of Burns Philp he didn't already own. After the successful takeover Burns Philp was delisted from the ASX and NZX. The deal gave him total control of A$2.9bn of Burns Philp cash, net of debt, which he could then use to further build on his Carter Holt Harvey empire.

And in 2007 Hart completed his US$450m purchase of American paper packaging company Blue Ridge Paper Products.

These acquisitions collectively made Rank Group the world's second biggest player in the paper products business.

Hart's 'company vehicle' today is a Bombardier Global Express corporate jet; but his outrageously successful business career has humble origins.

In his younger days, he worked as a tow-truck driver and as a panel beater after leaving Mount Roskill Grammar school at 16.

In 1987, Hart completed an MBA from the University of Otago. His research thesis outlines the strategy for Rank, then a small hire company, to evolve into a major corporation.

Hart gained a big break when he purchased the Government Printing Office for less than its capital value in 1990, and in the following year, Whitcoulls Group.

We know very little of his activities outside the boardroom, but his life has not been completely "under the radar", however.

In January 2007 Hart rescued three people and a dog from their burning boat off Waiheke Island, near Auckland. The rescued party didn't recognise their good samaritan - a fact which is hardly surprising.

2. Alan Bollard

Alan Bollard is the current governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and has been since 2002. He succeeded Donald Brash in the role.

In this key position, where he drives the country's monetary policy initiatives, he has inescapably been the focus of public and media scrutiny, which explains his high position as number two on our list of influential business figures of the last decade.

He is charged with the task of utilising the cash rate (OCR) to rein in inflation - keeping its rate inside a narrow "acceptable" band of between 1 and 3 percent on average over the medium term.

Each time he stands before that backdrop of the large poster of the New Zealand ten-dollar note and opens his mouth to deliver the latest Monetary Policy Statement, all of the country holds its breath to find out what is happening with interest rates.

He seemed to be the bringer of much doom and gloom to the economy through 2007 and the first half of 2008, with a succession of hikes in the OCR that peaked at a thumping 8.25 per cent in May 2008.

That rate made New Zealand's official interest rate the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the same time, the New Zealand dollar was unusually strong against the US dollar, due to weakness in the US housing market and the global credit crunch.

The worm had to turn - and it did. Since that time, Bollard has taken his foot off the accelerator and moved it to the brake pedal.

The OCR currently stands at 5 per cent. Analysts' forecasts are for two cuts of 50 basis points each, in March and April 2009, leaving the OCR at 3 per cent.

Despite years in the public eye, Bollard remains an enigmatic figure. His earlier public service included four years as Secretary to the Treasury, and time as head of the Commerce Commission. He also headed the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and has edited or written at least three books about economic reform in New Zealand.

He gained his PhD in Economics from the University of Auckland in 1977.

He is married to venture capitalist Jenny Morel.

3. Theresa Gattung

Elevated to third position on the list, is the woman who put her indelible stamp on New Zealand's telecommunications industry.

Theresa Gattung served as chief executive of Telecom, the largest company on New Zealand's stock exchange by value, from 1999 to 2007.

Gattung had worked in senior marketing roles at National Mutual and at the Bank of New Zealand before taking up a similar role at Telecom. In April 1996, she became Telecom's Group General Manager Services.

In October 1999, she took over from Rod Deane as Telecom's CEO.

During her time Telecom repeatedly reported handsome profits. For example, in her final year at the helm, Telecom's net earnings for the year were $1bn (excluding $2bn in revenue from the sale of Yellow Pages Group).

At times it was a rocky road, though.

In March 2006, Gattung courted controversy by characterising telcos to a Sydney audience as not "straight up" with customers on pricing. "Think about pricing," the press quoted her as saying. "What has every telco in the world done in the past? It's used confusion as its chief marketing tool. And that's fine ... But at some level, whether they consciously articulate or not, customers know that's what the game has been. They know we're not being straight up."

There were also some questionable decisions: the company bought Australian telco AAPT which was a costly mistake. They also missed the boat on the mobile business by wasting $200m on a CDMA mobile network - the "old" technology in that area.

Nevertheless, Gattung has said she felt "really proud" of Telecom's achievements duirng her tenure.

"When I joined the company no-one had heard of the Internet and hardly anyone had mobile phones."

Fast forward to now and it had been through an unprecedented time of change, she said.

"That's going to continue. The pace is not going to slow down."

Gattung said it was different - and sometimes better - as a businesswoman in what had been a man's world.

"I still think it's harder for a woman to get to the top, it's harder to become CEO.

"I think the image of a CEO is still a hard-driving male but once you're CEO it's a challenging, stimulating, fantastic but tough job for anybody and I don't think the criteria for CEO is different for female or male."

Gattung announced that she would leave Telecom at the end of June 2007.

In 2006 the Forbes list of "The World's 100 most powerful women" ranked Gattung at number 49.

Theresa Gattung was educated at McKillop College, Rotorua, the University of Waikato (Bachelor of Management Studies in marketing) and Victoria University of Wellington (Bachelor of Laws).

4. Ralph Waters

Australian-born Ralph Waters made his name here as managing director and CEO of Fletcher Building from 2001 to 2006.

In his five years at the top of New Zealand's leading building materials company, Waters turned the company into one of Australasia's largest building products businesses. He oversaw business acquisitions costing more than $1.6 billion and drove an eightfold increase in the company's net earnings.

During his tenure from 2001 to 2006 Fletcher Building's shares quadrupled in value, taking the company from 16th to the third-largest listed company in New Zealand, with a market value of $4.5 billion.

He retired in August 2006. When he left Fletcher Building , the company had more than 15,000 employees and its turnover was over $6 billion.

He was the Deloitte/Management magazine Executive of the Year, New Zealand Herald Business Leader of the Year, and received a Beacon award for excellence from the NZ Shareholders' Association.

He is renowned for his Australian optimism - striking out against the doomsday attitude adopted by fellow corporates and once saying New Zealand was the "most pessimistic" business environment he had ever encountered.

After his stint at Fletchers, Waters was appointed to the board of giant dairy co-operative Fonterra.

5. Sam Morgan

Wellington born and raised Sam Morgan soared to fame - and subsequent wealth - as the founder and managing director of Trade Me, New Zealand's largest online auction site.

He is by far the youngest on this esteemed list, having been born in 1975.

Morgan worked for IT consultancy Deloitte before leaving to start up Trade Me in 1999.

Popular mythology has it that he decided to found the TradeMe site when, despite searching online, he could not find a heater for his flat in Wellington.

The Trade & Exchange site had a heater for sale, but held back listings for a week before publishing them online, and by the time Morgan made contact with the heater's owner, the item in question had already sold.

Morgan thought: there has to be a better - and faster - way!

He grew Trade Me as literally the business in the family garage, to a bustling business. In 2005 New Zealand's Deloitte/Unlimited Fast 50 rated TradeMe the fastest-growing NZ technology company.

In 2006, Australasian media giant Fairfax Holdings agreed to buy Trade Me for NZ$700 million, plus another NZ$50 million if financial targets were met over the next two years.

Sam Morgan received $227 million (excluding future bonuses), making him one of the richest people in New Zealand overnight.

Not sure what he would do with the money, he said "I'm not a man of expensive tastes."

Morgan is now an investor and advisor to a number of start-up businesses and is also involved with several non-profit organisations including Medicine Mondiale.

Recently, he was appointed to the board of his dad's company Gareth Morgan Investments and Gareth Morgan KiwiSaver. Sam has invested $250 million in the company. Gareth Morgan is chairman of the board.

He married Talei Hayward in 2001. They have two daughters.

6. Henry van der Heyden

Traditionally, New Zealand has positioned itself as a country reliant principally on meat exports to generate income and boost the GDP.

However, in recent years the dairy industry has supplanted lamb as our biggest revenue-earner overseas, and the man who comes in at number six on our list has been the key figure in that burgeoning industry.

Henry van der Heyden became Chairman of Fonterra Cooperative Group in 2002.

He had been a founding director of the Co-operative and has contributed to industry governance (through the Dairy Board) for 16 years, as both a director and chairman.

He also played a considerable role in the industry rationalisation that led to Fonterra's establishment.

His tenure has seen the annual milk payout to dairy farmers grow substantially, and a series of new markets gained abroad. Fonterra is now the country's largest company with a turnover of $13.9 billion (in the year ending May 2007), and the world's biggest dairy exporter.

Van der Heyden began his farming career sharemilking in the Putaruru/Tokoroa area, where he purchased a farm in 1985. He is still on the property and still rolls his sleeves up to milk the cows "as often as he can".

He holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Agr) with Honours from Lincoln University.

7. John Bongard

Under John Bongard's leadership, whiteware maker Fisher & Paykel Appliances has posted year after year of record sales - rare indeed for a New Zealand manufacturer.

The straight-talking and unpretentious Bongard joined Fisher & Paykel as a purchasing cadet in 1973.

Bongard once said in an interview that the company "DNA" has four ingredients: style, integrity, care and innovation. Unlike long-winded mission statements, which he hates, the DNA is memorable and, to long-time company watchers, accurate.

"We try to have quite a flat structure", he said.

"We try to encourage movement between disciplines. We are still very much driven by technical innovation.

"Even though [F&P Appliances] is a public company it feels like working in a family one."

Bongard says a lot of the company's success in a tough market is down to the leadership style of original chairman Gary Paykel.

An advocate of "management by walking around", Bongard doesn't hide behind a closed office door.

He understands this hands-on style won't endear him to all his staff, but he is a believer in teamwork above all else - and everybody at F&P is part of that team.

He is married to Diane and has two children in their late teens.

8. Ralph Norris

After gaining an unparalleled reputation in New Zealand business circles as "Mr Banking", Ralph Norris briefly switched his attention to the airline industry, but has now returned to the field he knows so well - even if it is based across the Tasman.

Norris is currently managing director and CEO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a position he has held for three years.

He started his working career with Mobil Oil (NZ) in 1967, before joining the Auckland Savings Bank (ASB) in 1969, which subsequently became a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

He was appointed managing director and CEO of ASB Bank in 1991, retiring from that position a decade later.

During his tenure at the helm of ASB, it expanded nationally, grew its profitability six-fold and increased market share by 60 per cent while being consistently rated the best financial services provider in New Zealand.

He then took up the challenge to lead Air New Zealand in 2002, having served on the company's board of directors for three years. It was a time when the struggling carrier had just racked up NZ's biggest-ever corporate loss - requiring an injection from the government of $800 million.

By the time he left in 2005 to take up his role at Commonwealth Bank, Air New Zealand was well into the black, embacing the world of online booking systems, and topping customer satisfaction surveys.

For leading the financial turnaround at Air New Zealand and introducing a more customer-focused culture, he was honoured with New Zealand's Executive of the Year Award in 2004 - an honour he had already received once while with ASB.

Norris was awarded a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business in 2006.

Unlike many who sit in the boss's chair and come from a law or accounting background, Norris is no technophobe. He embraces IT and loves using the latest gadgets, they say - and even knows how computers work, having written basic programs in his early days.

Ralph Norris was born in Auckland and educated at Lynfield College and is married with three adult children.

[pdf file - requires Adobe Acrobat reader]

9. Stephen Tindall

Warehouse managing director Stephen Tindall recognises that his high-profile public persona polarises many people.

His recent bid to buy back the retail mega-chain he founded and take it private, under the noses of part-owner Woolworths, is typical of the never-say-die audacity of the man.

He originally recognised there was a niche opportunity in the New Zealand retail market and the rest was history - his "red sheds" dotting the landscape with their lower-priced, universal range of products.

He founded The Warehouse with a single store in Wairau Rd on Auckland's North Shore in 1982.

The traditional inner-city department stores didn't approve of this upstart out in the suburbs - but Tindall's empire thrived, as rivals struggled.

He also treated staff in a different way; he wanted it to be "fun" to work for The Warehouse.

There were Friday night barbeques, monthly team meetings and a chance to socialise afterwards and the legendary Birthday Day Off concept. The famous red t-shirts worn by all staff - including managers - made it clear that everyone was working together as one team.

Tindall grew the company into a billion dollar business before stepping down as managing director in 2001.

He now focuses on the Tindall Foundation and environmental and sustainability type projects. The Foundation invests in identifying and funding a number of diverse initiatives in business, education and sport, designed to stimulate innovation.

He keeps abreast of environmental issues as Chair of the Climate Change Leadership Forum.

Tindall's private venture capital company K1W1 has invested in over 100 young start up businesses and entrepreneurs who are aiming at providing export revenues for New Zealand from innovation and growth technologies.

He is a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, awarded in 2007.

[pdf file - requires Adobe Acrobat reader]

10. Craig Norgate

Craig Norgate rounds out our list.

Norgate has been a key figure behind the most dramatic changes in the agriculture business in the past decade.

Norgate, now 43, was one of the driving forces behind the consolidation of the dairy industry which culminated in the creation of Fonterra.

More recently, he has turned his attention to the ailing wool industry.

An accountant, he is currently the chairman of PGG Wrightson Limited and managing director of Rural Portfolio Investments Ltd, which owns 30 percent of the shares in PGG Wrightson.

Norgate has plans to combine most of PGG Wrightson's wool business with grower co-operative Wool Grower Holdings.

It's not just the wool on the sheep's back that has Norgate's attention. He is also keen to see a revamp of the meat industry, which he described to Herald business reporter Owen Hembry as "a disaster".

PGG Wrightson is continuing to work to put together a finance package for its $220 million bid to buy a 50 percent stake in meat processor Silver Fern Farms.

The financing of the deal has struggled to come to fruition, a victim of the global credit crunch.

Norgate is a dealmaker, says his associate Sir Selwyn Cushing. "He's a lateral thinker and he's very dedicated in achieving his aims and objectives," he says. "He's not frightened to roll his sleeves up and get on with the job."

"A very quick and intelligent mind, very good with figures and an understanding of people relationships," Smith says.

Norgate now spends about half his time working for PGG Wrightson and the rest on other interests, which have included helping out at the Taranaki Rugby Union and sitting on the board of Aotearoa Fisheries.

His other love is rugby.

Where many businessmen hang trophy artworks on their office walls, Norgate hangs rugby memorabilia. He is an avid fan, and with two sons who play the sport, watches maybe three or four games each Saturday.

The meeting room in his central Auckland office includes an All Blacks shirt signed by the team captains from 1946 to 1999, and an England shirt signed by the 2003 World Cup winners - trophies bought at charity auctions.