After leaving Christchurch's Xavier College at 16 Eric Watson's first job was as a butcher's apprentice. He later became a sales and branch manager at Whitcoulls, then a manager at Xerox, before beginning a business career that has involved scores of acquisitions.

* 1992:

Buys Fisher & Paykel subsidiary Blue Star Group.

* 1996:

Blue Star taken over by US Office Products after Blue Star had bought Whitcoulls and other companies, netting Watson $150 million.

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* 1996:

Buys into Blue Cross Eldercare rest homes.

* 1998:

Picks up 62.5 per cent of NZ Petroleum through underwriting a rights issue. Turns it into rest-home business under Blue Cross Eldercare, later to become Abano through further acquisitions in rest-home sector.

* 1998:

Pays $25 million with Hartner Construction's Wayne Hartner for Excell, a transtasman rubbish, maintenance and infrastructure company. Increases stake when Hartner's firm collapses.

* 1998:

Buys 18 per cent of retail automation software, scanning and portable data products company Advantage Group (later Provenco).

* 1999:

Buys 63.4 per cent of PRG (formerly Pacific Retail Group). After resistance to a takeover, lifts stake to 81.32 per cent before buying the rest of the stock and delisting in September 2006. In 2004 PRG sells Bond and Bond, Noel Leeming, Noel Leeming Furniture and Big Byte to Australian equity firm Gresham for $138.5 million. Lingerie firm Bendon is spun out of the group and amalgamated into a new company wholly owned by Watson. PRG stablemate Living and Giving is later sold.

* 1999:

Watson and Advantage Group chairman Evan Christian form e-commerce investment company ePac, to buy e-commerce interests in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

* 1999:

Watson's upmarket Finz Oyster Bar and Restaurant on the Auckland waterfront (initially a partnership with former league player Matthew Ridge) closes after racking up losses. Reopened and rebranded as Soul Bar and Bistro, and Watson now owns a half-share. Still going strong.

* 1999:

Advantage buys 20 per cent of Strathmore. Also has stake in online book retailer flyingpig.co.nz which later goes bust in the dotcom crash. Watson buys 38.4 per cent of Australia and NZ's biggest receivables company, RMG. It later goes bust.

* 1999:

Makes move on public listed rest-home operator Metlifecare, buying 10.11 per cent. Lifts stake to 20 per cent in 2000. Sells out in 2004.

* 2000:

Buys key assets of financially distressed New Zealand Warriors rugby league team. Still has a majority stake.

* 2000:

Takes 33 per cent holding in ASX-listed Canbet, a Canberra-based internet sports betting company.

* 2000:

Buys half of Elders Finance, later renamed Hanover Finance (assets sold last year to Allied Farmers).

* 2003:

Cullen Investments sells IT services firm Gen-i for $62.5 million.

* 2003:

PRG buys British appliance chain PowerHouse (in receivership) for $47.2 million.

* 2004:

Restructure of telecommunication and business-to-business e-commerce investments into one entity with plans to float it as Qixel, but float cancelled.

* 2005:

Watson and former US Office Products partner Jonathan Ledecky team up to float two special-purpose acquisition companies - Spacs, sometimes called "blank-cheque companies" - on the American Stock Exchange. Endeavour Acquisition raises US$129 million and buys T-shirt and leisurewear chain American Apparel in 2007. Watson recently confirmed he has sold out of the company. Victory Acquisition raises US$330 million, but plans to buy digital entertainment company TouchTunes are terminated and Victory is wound up, returning US$300 million to investors.

* 2006:

Pacific Retail Finance Retail sold to GE Finance for $145 million.

* 2007:

Another Spac, Triplecrown Acquisition, floated on the American Stock Exchange, raising US$539 million.

* 2009:

Triplecrown merged into Watson-managed Cullen Agricultural

Holding and listed on the American Stock Exchange.

*

Other investments have included Westbury Stud; movies (Watson was involved in producing and funding

Spooked

and

River Queen

. Neither was a box-office success); part owner of Omara Property Group, with a property portfolio including Matarangi Beach Estates and Jack's Pt near Queenstown; a swanky apartment in Knightsbridge, London; house (being sold) at Karaka, south of Auckland.