By JAN CORBETT
The voice down the telephone is as familiar as ever. But the difference from those heady days when Michael Fay was merchant banker extraordinaire, darling of the New Right, friend of the Lange/Douglas Labour government, and galvaniser and financier of our first audacious America's Cup challenge, was that he was answering his own telephone at all.
Back in the booming 1980s when Fay, Richwhite was synonymous with glamorous excess, mirror-glass buildings and regular dinners at Antoine's, the youngish Michael Fay had his image and accessibility managed like a rock star.
During the winebox inquiry - where his company was cleared of allegations of robbing the tax base of the country - he retreated almost entirely from the public eye and soon after, he and partner David Richwhite retreated from the country altogether, setting up private equity firm Fay, Richwhite & Cie in Geneva and leading, as it turned out, a stampede of millionaires out of New Zealand, each despairing in some way or other over our attitude to the rich.
Should the America's Cup itself now follow these exiles to Europe, its leaving will stamp a final punctuation mark on an extraordinary period in New Zealand's business and social history that began with 1984's economic deregulation.
Fitting, then, that the class of '84, Fay and David Richwhite, Alan Gibbs and Douglas Myers - the stalwarts of the early days of the Business Roundtable who now live overseas - have escaped the freezing northern winter and reunited in Auckland this month for the cup. The reunion, we understand, also includes a Roundtable old-boys retreat and sadly coincided with the death of another of their number, John Fernyhough.
Their hair, it must be noted, is a little thinner, their faces more jowly, their eyes a little rheumy. Clearly the comforts of a tax-efficient lifestyle abroad cannot stave off inevitable ageing.
Although he has not been directly involved since 1992, for New Zealanders the America's Cup remains synonymous with Fay, and it seems his emotional involvement has in no way waned.
The visibly frosty relationship between he and Russell Coutts when they appear at cup headquarters together bears testimony to that.
"My mind's not on anything but the cup," Fay said on Wednesday, with the hubbub of what sounded like the Great Mercury Island holiday crowd in the background.
"Team New Zealand is an important symbol. They've done a fabulous job of rebuilding and are only a squeak away from beating Alinghi."
Even if Alinghi win it, he points out, "Switzerland will never see" the prized trophy. "The best thing for the cup is for it to stay here," he believes.
But staying here is clearly not what he thinks is the best thing for Michael Fay.
With his children still in school in Switzerland, he says he will be returning there "a week or two" after the cup racing ends.
Plus, "there's work to be done there", although he is clearly not of a mind to talk about it.
Even with an estimated combined wealth of $1.2 billion, it's possible that Messrs Fay and Richwhite have become more anonymous in Switzerland than is helpful for people who need to be let inside the power circles to clinch the deal.
Their wealth will be considered paltry by Swiss standards - Ernesto Bertarelli is estimated to be worth 17 times that - and, frankly, they won't have the right accents.
Not that this has dampened their talent for making money out of rail, along with their old friends from Tranz Rail days, Wisconsin Central and Alan Gibbs. They enjoy a 9.2 per cent share of English Welsh and Scottish Railway Holdings, which is Britain's largest rail freight company.
Last year it romped home with a $295 million profit, up from $55 million the previous year.
Rumour has it, after they hosted a 300invitation strong party for their former employees and associates at Coast bar on Princes Wharf, that they are looking to get back into the local investment scene.
Friends say Fay's wife, Lady Sarah Fay, particularly enjoys living in Geneva, and the fact that the best shopping in Europe is only ever a short plane ride away. They ski, and regularly entertain a large coterie of friends. "When they get bored over there, they come here," says one.
After all, says Fay, "I miss New Zealand".
With a voice that could strip wallpaper, a face that could break rocks and hobbies that include collecting armoured vehicles, Alan Gibbs was never a millionaire who enjoyed much of the public's affection.
Like Michael Fay, he was close to the Rogernomes, and was commissioned to write a detailed report into the public health system, "Unshackling the public hospitals", which provided the genesis for a decade of health sector reforms.
He was not only close to the Act party, but was also behind the BBC world service radio station which provided a forum for Act party views.
He had made his fortune in Gibbs Securities and part-ownership of Freightways and sat on the boards of Telecom, Ceramco, Forestry Corporation, Sky TV and Lion Nathan.
Unlike so many others in the moneyed classes, Gibbs and former wife Jenny shared a love of the arts and funded Auckland's New Gallery.
But even with an estimated wealth of $280 million, which must surely provide all the income he requires, Alan Gibbs has a passion which has taken him first to the US and now Britain.
Through his company Gibbs Technologies he is developing an amphibious car.
Estimates are that he has already spent $50 million on the project and although a launch date remains elusive, reports are that the prototype is impressive for its speed in and out of the water.
Of course such a car could only be a rich person's toy - although in Auckland such a vehicle could soon prove a necessity for people who have the harbour between home and work. Gibbs is more likely to initially market his baby to the squillionaires living around America's Great Lakes or Scandinavia's fiords.
Developing it in Britain gives him access to experts who at least know how to design cars, as opposed to New Zealand where we never got much beyond knowing how to assemble them.
Interviewed last year at his London home, Gibbs said he liked New Zealand - "the people are very nice" - and that when he visits he has "no complaints at all".
By all accounts he remains deeply opposed to interventionist government.
At 64 and with $570 million of liquidated assets, Douglas Myers, former CEO and chairman of Lion Nathan and of the Business Roundtable, is no doubt enjoying life in London with wife Barbara. Myers not only sold out of the family business, which had a pedigree tracing back to Auckland's founding fathers, but also flicked on his Remuera mansion for $10.8 million.
He has, however, kept the farm at Matauri Bay.
Apart from attending the dinner where Fay was inducted into the America's Cup hall of fame, Myers is also here to select the new recipients of the scholarship he endows, for young New Zealanders to study at Cambridge University.
He might be considerably younger and better-looking, but no story about our millionaires in exile could be complete without remembering their most recent recruit, Eric Watson.
Irony, or at least Russell Crowe, dealt Watson a cruel blow soon after his arrival in London.
He gave his reason for leaving New Zealand last year as his desire for anonymity for himself and his son. Well, you know the rest. He is so anonymous overseas that after the punch-up with Crowe - allegedly over a woman - at least one foreign newspaper confused him with that other partial exile, our richest man, Graeme Hart.
Unlike other millionaire exiles, Watson has retained all his business interests in this country - for example, Noel Leeming, Bond & Bond, Computer City, Living & Giving - as well as ownership of the Warriors.
And, of course, he left an ex-wife behind.
By JAN CORBETT