(Full length unedited video interview is embedded below)

He's Sir Stephen Tindall. Of course he is - a Knight of the Realm.

It's only as we're driving away from the interview at his small Tindall Foundation office in Takapuna that I realise I've forgotten to acknowledge that at any stage.

I usually play along with titles, at least in the first instance. Some Knights and Dames quite like it. Some even insist.


Tindall is not that kind of Knight. In fact, I really don't think the issue crossed his mind.

It's not that he's not proud of the recognition. He has his NZOM medals on the wall – both of them. I noticed that.

In fact, his office is packed with memorabilia from a career which is increasingly marked by what he has done with his money, rather than how he made it.

No longer formally involved with The Warehouse (son Robbie represents the family's shareholding on the board), Tindall has stepped back this year.

He's immersed himself in a diverse array of personal projects that reflect his passion for education, the environment, technology and generally trying to improve on a country which he describes as "still the greatest place in the world".

Stephen Tindall has immersed himself in a diverse array of personal projects since stepping back from The Warehouse. Photo / File
Stephen Tindall has immersed himself in a diverse array of personal projects since stepping back from The Warehouse. Photo / File

Most recently he has been appointed chairman of America's Cup syndicate Team New Zealand.

For all the intensity of his achievements – and his wealth (north of $200m) – Tindall is genuinely unassuming.

The quintessential Kiwi family photo on his bookshelf – a gathering of generations, teenagers in goofy t-shirts, toddlers struggling to sit still – is a reminder that he's a proud father and grand-dad who has clung deliberately to a very New Zealand lifestyle.


Tindall comes from a humble background and retains a strong sense of family and of place.

He lives and works on the North Shore, around Takapuna where he grew up and went to school.

"My parents were not that well off," he says. "They taught us to be frugal. So I was really into saving."

Tindall recalls his first job was mowing lawns and then delivering groceries on a bike.

"When I turned 15 I got my licence and delivered them with a truck. I was always doing odd jobs and earning pocket money from my parents, worked holiday jobs with my dad," he says.

"I watched my father who was quite entrepreneurial and who made things at home and sold them to retail stores, and my mother had her own hairdressing business at home as well. So I was kind of bought up by a couple of entrepreneurial parents."

After what must have been a solid performance at Takapuna Grammar (he was head boy), he studied management at what is now AUT and then went to work for 12 years with Auckland retailer George Court & Sons before starting the first Warehouse store – also in Takapuna – in 1982.

The hard work and saving paid off big time for Tindall when he publicly listed The Warehouse in 1994.

After years of ploughing everything back into the business, there were big dividends on the way. It became clear to Tindall and his wife Margaret that they had more money than they needed.

They set up the Tindall Foundation, gifting it almost half their shareholding in the retail giant.

Tindall still retains a 27 per cent stake in The Warehouse Group and the Tindall Foundation holds 21 per cent.

Tindall surveys the crowds at one of his The Warehouse stores in Whangarei. Photo / File
Tindall surveys the crowds at one of his The Warehouse stores in Whangarei. Photo / File

So far the foundation has invested more than $160 million of Warehouse dividends back into the community.

"We work across a lot of social stuff, early years," Tindall says. "We kind of think we probably skipped a generation in terms of some of the needs in New Zealand. Teaching parents to look at different ways of bringing up their kids."

The foundation also employs 23 funding managers around New Zealand to work in the community and identify specific projects for investment.

Growing inequality bothers Tindall, and he sees housing and education as the two biggest issues to be dealt with.

He talks about an Auckland primary school he spoke at recently, where 40 per cent of the students were transient.

"That makes it incredibly hard for families," he says. "Because they come from such poor backgrounds they are moving all the time and getting evicted from their rental properties.

"There's huge opportunity to change that. Go back to when I was a little kid, when the State Advances loans were available to poor families. Do things a bit differently and get people into homes. We could make New Zealand a lot better place socially."

To that end, the Tindall Foundation is also a big investor in social housing and has even started looking at ways to bring down the cost of building.

"I do think there is a big opportunity in the next 10 years to see land prices come back a lot and building prices as well. That would make a big difference to Kiwis."

The need to move New Zealand's investment mindset past property has been one driver for his other great passion – tech start-ups and angel investing.

"It grows the wealth of New Zealand. We've very much been a property dominated investment society," he says. "Equities, when you actually look at them, do better if you're a wise investor. But I think we can even do better than that.

"The studies we do would suggest that we're just as entrepreneurial. It's just that we don't have that deep investment capital that Israel's been able to attract. So in our case we have to do it ourselves."

Tindall. Cartoon / NZ Herald
Tindall. Cartoon / NZ Herald

Tindall's investment firm K1W1 grew out of the "Knowledge Wave" – a national initiative launched by the Helen Clark Government which aimed to diversify New Zealand's economy by promoting technology.

K1W1 has invested more than $100m in 200-plus smart local tech and innovation based companies.

The list includes some high profile success stories such as clothing label Icebreaker, Rocket Lab and bio-fuel company LanzaTech.

Some critics dubbed the Knowledge Wave a talk fest which failed to deliver any material change.

But Tindall doesn't buy that.

"It was slow to start," he says. "But now I think you can look back and say it highlighted the fact that you needed to use knowledge type businesses to grow this economy."

He started K1W1 shortly after that because he felt it was "time to put my money where my mouth is".

Rocket Lab and LanzaTech are both now billion-dollar companies.

Rocket Lab has attracted plenty of media attention, blasting New Zealand into the space race from the Mahia Peninsula.

LanzaTech, though less of a household name, has been successfully commercialising its groundbreaking science which uses bacteria and biological processes to turn waste carbon into biofuel.

It shifted its base to the US in 2014, sparking debate about the way we fund local companies – and whether we see a good return when they go global.

Tindall receives the accolade of knighthood from the Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand during the redesignation ceremony at Old St Paul's Church in Wellington on 14 August 2009. Photo / File
Tindall receives the accolade of knighthood from the Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand during the redesignation ceremony at Old St Paul's Church in Wellington on 14 August 2009. Photo / File

Rocket Lab is also increasingly funded by US investors, and has begun to look for US launch sites.

And high-tech adventure clothing brand Icebreaker was sold to a giant US company last year.

Tindall says the departures don't bother him too much.

"The way we look at is, we've had some very good profitable exits in the last couple of years. We just reinvest the money in new companies that are going to grow even faster. So I don't see it as a problem personally," he says.

"There will be others that say you've lost the likes of an Icebreaker – which we were a big investor in – but they've still got to buy their wool here in New Zealand, the business will do well under the new owners."

LanzaTech may have gone to the US, but that was because that's where its business comes from, he says. "It's still a New Zealand company and all the New Zealand shareholders are benefiting."

LanzaTech is one of several sustainable energy businesses in the K1W1 stable.

Another, called Avertana – which converts industrial waste back into valuable raw materials – has been founded by several of the key LanzaTech personnel.

"So this is the spinoff, if you don't want to move to the States with the mother ship, these guys stay back and start new businesses."

Tindall is also excited by the rapid growth of solar panel firm SolarCity – now doing half of New Zealand's residential solar conversions.

For years he has been a champion of what is sometimes called "green growth".

Most recently – in a Herald op-ed – he was outspoken in his support for the Government's decision to end prospecting for offshore oil and gas

It's a policy move that some say has put the Government offside with local business and contributed to a slump in confidence.

"It probably is hitting some business confidence. That always goes down when a Labour Government comes in," he says. "I always look 30 years out. So we're in it for the long term. I think that 30 years from now oil and gas is not going to be as important."

The role that consumerism (and retailers like The Warehouse) has played in causing plastic waste is not lost on him.

Tindall, now Team New Zealand chairman, watches on during the America's Cup parade held in the Auckland CBD last year. Photo / File
Tindall, now Team New Zealand chairman, watches on during the America's Cup parade held in the Auckland CBD last year. Photo / File

"It does worry me too," he says. "I'm desperately worried about what's happening with plastic and how it's polluting our oceans."

The Warehouse led the way on getting rid of plastic bag use – adopting an opt-in policy 12 years ago – long before the supermarkets got on board, he points out.

And he is optimistic about new technologies which can process and recycle plastics.

He talks about a company he plans to invest in which has developed technology to "gobble up plastic" and turn it into usable oil.

In fact, he has a canister of yellowish oil on his desk which he picks up to illustrate his point.

"So this is the oil. It will go into diesel engines."

Technologies like that will "take the edge off" while we work towards bigger long term solutions, he says.

Meanwhile, the Tindall Foundation is funding Trees that Count, an initiative that has planted almost 20 million native trees in the past two years.

"I see good crossover between the work we're doing in the Tindall Foundation and the sustainable investment."

He feels as though the momentum is there now for a major shift to a more sustainable way of living.

"I've studied this for 30 years. It's taken a long time to get here."

The economics for technologies like solar power just keep getting better and better, he says.

"We know that EVs [electric vehicles] are coming at us at a great rate and, for climate change, we've got to stop driving combustion engines. We're going to need a lot more electricity so there's going to be a lot more opportunity for investment in sustainable energies."

In some ways, Tindall's concern about inequality and the environment seems at odds with his involvement in the America's Cup – a sport synonymous with glamour and wealth.

"I'm not really a yachtie," he says when I ask about his increasing involvement.

"I just got caught up in it like every Kiwi, when you watch it and particularly when you win."

As Team New Zealand chairman he's in the thick of it now, with a regatta to organise as well as a Cup defence to mount.

Tindall says he's confident we're through the worst of the political "machinations" about the Cup defence and on the way to planning a great event.

It's the technology and application of classic Kiwi ingenuity that really appeals to Tindall – the notion of Kiwis taking on the world.

Economy Hub speaks to Stephen Tindall.

He points to the similarities between Team New Zealand and Rocket Lab and notes that quite a few staff work between the two businesses.

"You've got this carbon fibre boat and this carbon fibre rocket and similar types of design. Looking out into the future to see what you can do about foiling and flying into space."

And he's excited about the prospect of wealthy investors heading our way and the depth of capital they will bring.

He knows from his experience at previous America's Cup events that it provides a great platform for the New Zealand tech sector.

"Bringing it back to Auckland there's going to be at least a billion dollars worth of value come from it," he says. "I think it can only be good for the country."

No one could ever accuse Tindall – who has a New Zealand flag in his office – of lacking in patriotism.

"Can anybody tell us a better place?" he says. "We might not be the wealthiest but we care about each other. I think there is so much more we can do to help with inequality and environment ... with getting everyday New Zealanders involved in tech businesses – whether they're running them or investing in them.

"I'm incredibly optimistic. I just wish I was 30 again."