Who could knock Graeme Hart off the top of New Zealand's rich list?

Right now the gap between Hart at $7.5 billion and the rest is so large it won't happen any time soon.

But, let's imagine it will eventually.

What kind of entrepreneur could we expect to see at the top of our rich list in the coming decades?


Based on what we're seeing around the world, there's a good chance they'll be a tech geek.

Somewhere out there some dorky kid is obsessing over some detail of their favourite computer game – convinced they can do it better.

He or she has the right stuff to change the world – we just need to make sure the pathways are there.

I can't imagine what sort of tech it would take for a local kid to find themselves in the ranks of a Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page or Jeff Bezos.

It will probably be one of those things you download that makes it really easy to do that thing you didn't know you needed to do, but now must do every day.

Much of what we do on the internet seems so simple and obvious. It is hard to explain to kids that before the mid-1990s very few people saw it coming – let alone imagined its full potential.

That potential has started to worry those wondering what the next generation will do for jobs.

Robots, AI and internet apps are threatening a startling number of traditional jobs – from truck driving to the basics of legal, financial and medical advice.


The Government is taking it seriously and announced funding in the Budget for a major Future of Work forum.

There's a lot of concern about what our kids will do to earn a wage.

But it's also worth thinking about how the next generation will create wealth – for themselves and for the economy.

The reason to look at the elite end of the financial success pyramid is not because we should expect our kids to be rich-listers - or even tech entrepreneurs.

It's because the shift we're seeing in the make-up of wealth creators around the world will reflect the shift in work patterns.

Hart and many others on the local rich list are in the mould of a traditional capitalist entrepreneurs.

They buy things and then they sell them for more money than they paid.

Warren Buffet made it the same way. It's not to say there is no creative thinking involved in a leveraged buy-out but it's not about inventing new products. Whether because the pace of tech change is faster now, or because the tech itself enables developers to more easily monetise their own ideas, the trend is clear.

According to the 2018 Forbes billionaires list there are a record 206 tech billionaires, 23 more than a year ago. Together they are worth US$1.3 trillion ($1.9t), up 30 per cent since last year.

The core skills needed to succeed are no great mystery - creativity and lateral thinking, and a healthy dose of the ability to communicate and self-confidence to sell the idea.

How to teach these things is not so simple.

The big local tech news this week was the world's largest online gaming company Tencent snapped up an 80 per cent stake in Grinding Gear Games - a west Auckland video games developer.

Grinding Gear - which had a worldwide hit game with Path of Exile - grew from a group of gaming buddies in a New Lynn bedroom who decided they could improve on their favourite game.

Their initial ambition was entirely creative. They set out to make the game they wanted to play.

But one of the founding developers (MD Chris Wilson) also had a commerce degree and a world-class understanding of the gaming world's economy.

Grinding Gears doesn't sell the game - it sells products within the game.

If you can attract enough players to your virtual universe, with enough of an emotional connection to invest real money, then you have yourself a market - and a handy monopoly on magic swords, dragonskin armour and the like.

Who knows what's next for Grinding Gear, but with Tencent's marketing clout the odds look good for it growing as a local employer of creative video-game-loving kids. It's a good news story.

The global gaming industry generated more than $150b in revenue last year - nearly twice the music and movie business combined.

The game Grand Theft Auto V is the highest grossing entertainment product in history - topping US$8 billion in revenue and leaving Avatar and Star Wars in its dust.

In local industry already generates $100m in revenue and is on a double-digit growth path - the potential is enormous.

The point, though, is not which sector we should focus our attention on. It is to encourage the skill sets that will drive success in the 21st century.

Guiding creativity out of the bedroom into an environment where it can be realised will be key to New Zealand's future prosperity.