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An entrepreneur who liked to take a helicopter view

By Chris Hutching

Friday 4th July 2003

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Howard James Paterson has been a leading contender on The National Business Review's Rich List for many years and last year his fortune was estimated at $130 million but a more recent assessment suggests it should probably be closer to $200 million.

His diverse interests range from property development, to investment and biotechnology (including listing the first biotech companies on the New Zealand Stock Exchange).

Many of his investments are held by private companies that never receive the glare of media publicity and include dairy, sheep and beef farms, various commercial and residential property developments, particularly in Queenstown, and high country stations throughout the South Island.

He had holiday homes in many locations, including Nelson and Queenstown, and was also recently involved in the purchase of two Fiji islands where he had plans for executive getaways.

Mr Paterson made his early money out of property investment and shares but cashed up in 1986 just before the sharemarket crash. He went to Hawaii where he completed property developments and returned to do the same here and build stakes in companies like Trans Tasman initially.

His investment vehicle is Otago Trust and his colleagues Alistair Broad, David Smallbone and Peter Dodds are fellow directors.

One of his latest projects was the promotion of the ambitious 1618ha Waitaki Valley Estates vineyard development owned with Colin Reynolds and Stephen Cozens with the aim of selling grape-growing lifestyle blocks and setting up a wine-making company.

The first harvest of 5ha of test vintage pinot noir grapes in the valley has debunked an earlier study that said the area was too cold. As a result the company has reassessed land prices, which will increase from $20,000 a hectare to $30,000.

For an outlay of $4 million the development may glean $40 million if the last season proves typical longer term.

One of the most successful developments for the listed company he founded ­ Southern Capital (evolving into Hirequip) ­ was the Omaha beach subdivision with properties selling at over the $1 million mark.

To get around all his properties and spy new opportunities Mr Paterson recently bought a helicopter to give him a god's eye view of New Zealand property.

The listed and unlisted biotech companies he launched have yet to deliver their promise, particularly A2 where the health benefit claims are under scrutiny. But PharmaZen, Botry-Zen, and Blis hold considerable promise and are overseen by executives with a strong stake in their future.

In the late 1990s Mr Paterson launched the biggest corporate deer company in the world, New Zealand Deer Farms, and a couple of years ago set up the country's biggest poultry farm at Waikouaiti where the animals enjoy some of the best views of the southern coastline.

He gave his old mate Phil Burmester a tour of the state of the art farm and at the end asked, "Do you see a single unhappy chicken here?" Just in case there were (and to cover all markets), Mr Paterson also set up a free-range farm on the property for any chooks that wanted to take the option, according to a friend who was reminiscing over old conversations this week.

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