Among the many legally qualified business leaders are a growing number of former lawyers who have placed themselves at the forefront of business. Some still practice and others have left the law, but have made their mark, and often their fortunes, beyond the legal profession.
And the legal \’millionaire factory\’ that continues to create successful business people is The Factory: Russell McVeagh, which has been the law firm base for no fewer than four of our leading 12 business leaders, including the tech leader Claudia Batten (see below).
Russell McVeagh has broadly the same number of partners today as it did 20 years ago when 42 partners met in the boardroom, just one fewer than the partner numbers today.
However the firm is highly profitable and has produced a clutch of business leaders and millionaires, including the power lawyers from the 1980s including Power List leader Peter Cooper and his fellow Russell McVeagh alumni such as Geoff Ricketts and Robin Congreve who helped shape modern business with such major business operators as Douglas Myers, Alan Gibbs, Michael Fay and David Richwhite, Adrian Burr and others.
Among the LawFuel Power business legal business leaders :
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The name says it all, of course, but as not only a power lawyer, but also LawFuel\’s first Lawyer of the Year following his final year as Justice Minister, Simon Power has become TVNZ CEO at a time when the government has decided it is time to merge Radio New Zealand and the commercially-focused television network. Power is a skillful political operator but his work will be cut out with the proposed merger.
A former partner at Fitzherbert Rowe in Palmerston North, he was elected to Parliament in 1999 and served three terms on the opposition benches before National\’s win in the 2008 election, following which he became Justice Minister before resigning in 2011 to take up his role with Westpac.
The former Wellington solicitor who became Chief Executive of Westpac in 2015 until has become something of a Mr Fixit for the government, handling roles that require a firm hand and sound business thinking.
A popular and successful leader at the bank, it is perhaps noteworthy that the entire executive team left within six months of his departure from Westpac.
During his time, he promoted a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives, including being one of the first corporates to become a Living Wage employer, and was an inaugural member of Champions for Change.
The boy form Whakatane who first acted as a lawyer in private practice before working for NatWest, Southpac/National Bank and Deutsche Morgan Grenfell as well as establishing the New Zealand branch of Deutsche Bank.
Since retiring from the top job at Westpac in mid-2021 he has been appointed Chairman of KiwiRail, which has suffered from resignations and other difficulties.
Leading director of some of the country\’s largest companies, former Simpson Grierson partner Verbiest holds a clutch of directorships, seeing him running from chairing Meridian Energy to Summerset Life.
He recently retired from chairing Freightways and holding board positions with both Spark and Transpower.
A seven year hiatus with (then) Telecom as company secretary and member of the company’ senior executive team saw him subsequently develop his network as a consultant to a variety of companies across multiple commercial areas ranging from telecommunications to medical insurance, banking and property.
His work on a range of strategic and governance issues, including undertaking substantial work within the energy and communication industries, including as chair of the Electricity Industry Transmission Pricing Methodology Project and a board member of the Financial Markets Authority and member of Treasury’s independent panel on mixed ownership.
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Another Russell McVeagh alumnus, the Northland truck driver\’s boy Peter Cooper has overseen a stellar business career in New Zealand and the United States, where he has developed property at his Newport Beach home and is developing a town in Texas at Southlake in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.
His entree to big business came through his meeting with former carpenter Chris Mace, who Cooper met on Muriwai Beach where Mace was a lifeguard and Cooper a surfer. The two later formed Mace Developments with two other then-Russell McVeagh partners as directors: Geoff Ricketts and Robin Congreve. In 1986 Mace Developments was acquired by LD Nathan and two years later Douglas Myers\’ Lion Corp. merged with LD Nathan in a controversial deal.
Meanwhile, back at the kiwi ranch his Cooper & Company has developed the exclusive Northland Landing property, the exquisite \’AirBnB for Billionaires\’ and the major development at Britomart, Auckland. He also owns a clutch of homes on Takapuna\’s clifftop Clifton Road and has significant other property and investment interests.
Former Russell McVeagh corporate lawyer Grant Kemble is the Chief Executive Officer of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Rawa, having previously been CEO at Perpetual Guardian and a Chief Risk Officer at Heartland Bank.
He acted on the purchase of Guardian Trust by Barnes’ investment vehicle, Bath Street Capital, and Milford Asset Management and then moved to PG Trust. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has well over a billion dollars in assets with major commercial and residential projects across Auckland.
With a property portfolio worth perhaps two billion dollars, plus high level philanthropy work, provide Sir Michael Friedlander with a unique power within the legal profession. A consultant to his firm, Keegan Alexander, he was knighted in 2016 and is a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the community.
Power List duo: Sir Michael Friedlander with fellow Power List member Dame Patsy Reddy upon receiving his knighthood in 2016
His companies Samson Corporation and Sterling Nominees own large commercial and retail properties on some of Auckland\’s main roads, including Ponsonby, Dominion and Great North roads. Included in the vast portfolio are the Geyser and Axis buildings in Parnell and the Ironbank building on Karangahape Road.
He is a well-known philanthropist through the Friedlander Foundation, as well as donating generously to the Liggins Institute, the Auckland Art Gallery, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Jewish community.
Greymouth Petroleum boss Mark Dunphy made headlines with his attempts to retain the Americas Cup competition in New Zealand waters, promising to financially support part of his half billion dollar fortune to doing so, along with the assistance of fellow Power List member, senior Kings Counsel and yachtsman Jim Farmer.
Greymouth Petroleum is the second largest locally-owned and operated production and exploration company whose assets include the onshore Turangi, Onaero, Kowhai, Radnor and Ngatoro gas fields. He has formally been chairman of ASX-listed Cultus Petroleum and privately owned Australian company Interstate Energy.
He also hit the headlines with his lawsuit against energy minister Megan Woods over the government moves under the Crown Minerals Act halting offshore gas and oil exploration. But it was his battle to retain the Americas Cup and crossing swords with Cup boss Grant Dalton, saying he made no apologies for being patriotic when it comes to the Americas Cup.
Former Simpson Grierson partner Mark Binns was CEO of Meridian Energy from 2012 to 2017, during which he prepared the company for New Zealand’s largest IPO. He worked for Fletcher Building and its predecessor Fletcher Challenge for 22 years handling major operations of the group.
His report in 2022 into the Ports of Auckland\’s disastrous container terminal automation project made headlines and identified multiple failures in company governance, management and accountability of the failed project.
He is a director of Crown Infrastructure Partners in 2018 and then chair in March 2020 and has been closely involved in many of New Zealand’s largest infrastructure projects, including the Wiri Prison public-private partnership, Waterview Connection, Eden Park, SKYCITY, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the Manapōuri tunnel.
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Whai’ Dewes, of Ngāti Porou and Ngati Rangitihi descent, holds a powerful postition among a number of key organisations and companies.
After working in senior roles for Fletcher Challenge, he has been heavily involved as director with Housing New Zealand, Television New Zealand, Māori Television, and Ngāti Porou Holding Company. He currently serves on the board of Contact Energy and chairs Ngati Porou Seafoods and Ngati Porou Forestry.
He has established himself as a leader in Māori business organisations, with particular expertise in fisheries, and is the current chairman of Sealord Group and Moana New Zealand. He also served as a member of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission in its first 10 years.
Another former Russell McVeagh millionaire, Claudia Batten spent three years at the firm from 1998 until 2001. A serial entrepreneur Claudia Batten is Wellington-born who has shuttled between New Zealand and the United States but is now principally New Zealand-based. She set up two massivley successful startups, her gaming company Massive was sold to Microsoft no less in 2006 for a reported USD400 million.
That success was followed up by her Colorado-based Victors & Spoils (V&S), an advertising agency built on the principles of crowdsourcing, which was sold to a French company in 2012 for an undisclosed amount but, safe to say, enough to create additional substantial wealth. She is now involved as a founder of Broadli, an app to make digital connections work effectively.
She is a digital adviser to Westpac and last year was appointed as a director of Air New Zealand.
She is also a director of digital travel company and NZX listed Serko and writes a well-read blog on her life\’s journey at The Squiggly Life.
Chris Chandler massive fortune stems from his reputation as a \’contrarian investor\’, but his wealth also lead to a successful defamation case over alleged links to Russian intelligence, leading to subsequent apologies from controversial MPs Bob Seely and Chris Bryant, among other published retractions.
Working with his brother, the two inherited their Chandler House furniture business before moving to greener pastures in Monaco from which they started the Sovereign business.
Auckland developer Simon Herbert leads an extravagant lifestyle and is yet another Russell McVeagh (and Rudd Watts & Stone, now MinterEllisonRuddWatts) lawyer who set up his development company investing in major real estate developments including the Bayswater Marina Village and the Hobsonville Marina
In 2018 his Orewa West sub-division property that he purchased for $3.9 million four years ago was sold for $62.8 million.
He also hit the news with the $20 million sale of their Remuera Mansion, (above) which was formerly owned by David Richwhite, and in respect of a stoush over a deal involving 246 Queen Street.
He and wife Paula had just bought a Cremorne St property, a modernist Brent Helena concrete place with its own boat-shed, helicopter pad, pool overlooking the waterfront and beachfront access for a record-breaking $30 million.
Less successfully, he also bought the moribund Sheraton Hotel in Rarotonga, selling it a couple of years later after claims the long-troubled property was cursed.