Old school ties

Napier Boys' College old boy Rod Drury

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In many countries, your educational bragging rights centre on where you went to university.

Here, with the varsities being pretty much even-stevens, the snob factor revolves around where you went to secondary school.

A good school doesn’t come cheap.

King’s College fees run to more than $24,000 a year, so you’re looking at the thick end of $200,000 to send a couple of your sprogs there for five years – although that’s still less than the up to $500,000 premium you’ll pay for a house in Auckland’s double grammar zone, aka the area that takes in the two state schools with the highest prestige factor – Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar. 

Is it worth it?

There are obvious benefits (as reflected in Metro’s exam tables) of going to a top school in terms of better resources, better teacher-to-pupil ratios and the chance to rub shoulders with classmates from well-connected families.

And that combination of factors does indeed send some alumni from the likes of Christ’s College, the ACG group and the holy trinity of girls’ schools (Baradene, Diocesan and St Cuthbert's) to the top of the ladder.

But then again, at university I knew more than one person who went through Auckland Grammar who could not adapt to thinking for themselves or managing themselves in the tertiary education environment.

And, when you look around at the movers and shakers in New Zealand business and society, a good whack of them – including many of the NBR Rich Listers (and just, quietly, NBR’s previous and current publishers) – went to meat-and-potatoes schools in working class suburbs like Mt Roskill and Mt Albert (yes, I know house prices there are no longer in that bracket, but many incomes still are).

That fits our egalitarian mythology. New Zealand is not a country of equally distributed wealth, but there is degree of equality of opportunity. No, it’s not perfect, and the landscape is shifting; those coming through the system today don’t get quite the same leg up as, say, a John Banks or John Key. But if you’re smart and hard working, it is there.

My quick survey below indicates that social mobility is alive and well in Godzone.

In fact, in a stark contrast to the UK, there has only been one prime minister in modern times who went to a “good” school (Epsom Girls Grammar graduate Helen Clark).

And sifting through the CVs of NZ-educated chief executives of NZX-50 companies, I did find a number with a traditional blue-blood education.

But others were from run-of-the-mill schools or dropouts. And those who are are super rich, entrepreneurs or and iconoclasts more often than not come from outside the top-tier of formal education.

Here’s a look at where a selection of our business leaders, innovators and politicians went to school:

Jacinda Ardern (prime minister): Morrinsville College

Jamie Beaton (Crimson Education founder): King’s College

John Banks (politician, property developer): Avondale College

Helen Clark (former PM, former head UNDP): Epsom Girls Grammar

Peter Cooper (NBR Rich List #12; property, online sports broadcasting): Kaitaia College

Richard Chandler (Rich List #3): Auckland Grammar

Christopher Chandler (Rich List #7: Auckland Grammar

John & Michael Chow (Rich List #90, founders NZX-listed Chow Group): Naenae College

Barry Colman (NBR Rich List #100, author, investor): Rotorua Boys' High School

Sir Russell Coutts (Rich List #200, yachting): Otago Boys' High School

Eliot Crowther (Rich List #207, PushPay co-founder): Bethlehem College, Tauranga.

Rod Drury (Rich List # 22, Xero chief executive): Napier Boys’ High School

Diane Foreman (Rich List #80, entrepreneur): Takapuna Grammar (fifth-form dropout)

Sir Michael Fay (Rich List #10=): St Peter's College, Auckland, St Patrick's College

Carmel Fisher (Rich List #203, co-founder Fisher Funds): Sacred Heart College

Rob Fyfe (professional director, former CEO Air NZ, Icebreaker): Burnside High School, Christchurch

Theresa Gattung (Telecom chief executive, MyFoodBag co-founder): MacKillop College, Rotorua*

Doug Hastie (Syft, Chanui): Gisborne Boys' High School

Graeme Hart (NBR Rich List #1): Mt Roskill Grammar

Chris Heaslip (Rich List #199, PushPay co-founder): Kaipara College, Helensville 

Sir Michael Hill (NBR Rich List #48, founder Michael Hill jewellery): Whangarei Boys' High School

Sharon Hunter (entrepreneur, director of NZX-listed Veritas; pictured): Papakura High School

Stephen Jennings (Rich List #9 ): Spotswood College, New Plymouth

Sir John Key (Rich List #187, company director, former PM): Burnside High School

Sir Robert Jones (Rich List #14, Property): Naenae College

Richard Keys (Abano Healthcare chief executive): Auckland Grammar

Chris Liddell (Rich List #131, advisor to Trump Whitehouse, former CFO GE, Microsoft, Carter Holt Harvey): Mt Albert Grammar

Christopher Luxon (Air NZ chief executive): Christchurch Boys’ High School

Ian McCrae (Rich List #127, Orion Health chief executive): Hamilton Boys’ High School

Jake Millar (Unfiltered founder): Christchurch Boys’ High School

Phil McCaw (Rich List #132, angel investor): Napier Boys' High School

Sam Morgan (Rich List #29, Trade Me Founder, entrepreneur; pictured): Rongotai College

Simon Moutter (Spark managing director): Palmerston North Boys' High School

Sir Ralph Norris (Fletcher Building chairman, former CBA chief executive): Lynfield College

Adrian Orr (Reserve Bank govenor elect, Super Fund head): Taupo-nui-a-tia High School 

Craig Piggott (founder/chief executive Halter): St Peters College, Cambridge

Annette Presley (Rich List #147, technology): McAuley High School, Otahuhu

Wendy Pye: (Rich List #43, self-made publisher): Harvey High and Bunbury High**

David Richwhite (Rich List 10=): King’s College

Victoria Ransom (Rich List #51, software): Whanganui Girls' College

Craig Smith (founder, Education Perfect): Saint Kentigern

Sir Stephen Tindall (Rich List #62, Warehouse Group founder/director, startup investor): Takapuna Grammar

Mark Vivian (Movac partner): Scots College

Fraser Whineray (Mercury chief executive): Auckland Grammar

Joan Withers (director Mercury, TVNZ, Warehouse Group, ANZ): McAuley High School, Otahuhu (left after fifth-form)

Ian Wright (co-founder of Tesla, founder of Wrightspeed): Dargaville High School

* A private school, but I know from someone who went there with the small army of Gattungs that it was pretty modest — like many Catholic schools pre-state integration.

** Wendy describes them as "just country high schools" in Western Australia. Although she's a living example that you can make it without going to a posh school, she tells NBR, "It is more of an uphill struggle when you don’t have those connections through family or from school."
those family connections or from schools


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20 Comments & Questions

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Not one school or University in NZ teaches entrepreneurship. It comes from a unique drive to be successful in business just like a sports person has a drive to be the best in the field of sport the partake in. The ability to create something out of nothing and solve customers problems is not taught but learnt through having a hunger to succeed and learning from others that have walked the walk before them. The ability to look at problems as opportunities is at the core of how an entrepreneur thinks.

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I agree with your comments except for the first sentence. There are a number of secondary schools where 'young enterprise' programmes are successsfully running. A good example of this is the Young Enterprise programme currently being run at St John's College, Hastings (a modest decile 4 college). The programme is being run in Partnerhship with a group of youth prisioners at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison. Take a look at 'Sharing learning from both sides of the wire' article in the New Zealand Education Gazette

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Been through the "YES" program myself and can vouch for the fact that it definitely teaches you some crucial skills around starting your own business. Only criticism I can think of is that it occurred in year 10, an age where you're too young to take it seriously and would've been more beneficial if this occurred at year 12 or 13...or maybe have it in year 10 but scale it in year 12/13...

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The University of Auckland offers a "Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship" through their Business School. This can give you the tools and frameworks to aid entrepreneurship, as well as practical experience through the many projects you have to undertake during the programme. However the individual's personal entrepreneurial attributes and ambitions are the overriding factor.

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as does Otago. Have lectured there.

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There is more chance that a person will be successful in business if they come from a low decile school than a private or high decile school. The reason is that they know what "struggle" and "hard work" is, and have had a life of looking for opportunities. Real tough for "rich kids" to get that experience.

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Totally correct

The list proves that - only a couple from Kings College etc - 95% are from normal NZ families and went to good public schools - Auckland Grammar is the most dominant but there is a wide range of normal local secondary schools

I believe that private schools - in particular the Christ College's and Kings College's of NZ actually breed mediocrity. The syrupers are taught to be subservient rather than entrepreneurial and at home they have everything they want due to their parents wealth. They have never had to work for their money or their clothes etc so they have no commercial imagination or innovation. The best thing their parents could do is make them work for their money - not doing the home lawns about getting out there and finding their own after school or holiday jobs - that experience alone gives them confidence to face the world and also meet people from all socio economic sectors - not just their rich mates and families.

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This all seems very scientific and quite clearly proves the hypothesis, however I was surprised that there wasn't also a picture of Victoria Ransom included with the randomly selected one of Sharon Hunter to rule out any appearance of selection bias.

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Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
Albert Einstein.

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A cool idea to look into how education effects what people get up to when they grow up. I think it's split into three areas: self reliance, influence and network. Only the last two are effected by schooling, but I don't know which ones are most important!

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Interesting though isn't it the number who went to single-sex High Schools. This appears to support the finding that it is better for a boy's education if he attends an all boys school.

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I agree with Tony - the research has long suggested that achievement need as its antecedents in factors, such as coming from the other side of the tracks, the copying of the work ethic from either hard working parent, the loss of a parent early in life with responsibility thrust on the children, overcoming ill health, having to help support the impoverished family and so on.

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My hubby is a shining example of a private schooling. During the 80's he was a weekly boarder at both the prep & big Kings (Peart House). He now manages his own tow-truck, despite a number of people trying to tell me "he will come to nothing". I am proud to say our son is now also following in his dad footsteps as a day-boy......

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You cant teach success. Its an inner drive, attitude and never accepting NO from anyone.
I went through uni as an adult. Teachers and professors and lecturers are almost heavy advocates of the left. Can someone tell me why that is the case? The labour party is always half teachers or more.
The most realistic learning always came from invited guests, outside the education system. Even the MBA programme I always wondered who was teaching who? Maybe its just life experience.

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>"there is degree of equality of opportunity. No, it’s not perfect, and the landscape is shifting; those coming through the system today don’t get quite the same leg up as, say, a John Banks or John Key."

This is very concerning. I'm sure I recall the outgoing Children's Commissioner saying impoverished children receive ONE SIXTH the support they did in John Key's day. The chances of another kid in Key's situation growing up to be PM are heavily reduced.

Looking over a breakdown of our social spending recently, I couldn't help but notice that our spending on helping the impoverished has reduced significantly as a proportion of welfare spending...while at the same time our spending on welfare overall has increased significantly, due to a pension we hand out regardless of need.

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High-school snobbery is a new shiny trinket that social climbers can bandy about at each other, but there's precious little substance to justify it. It's about as vapid as thinking of a 1050 postcode as part of one's "personal brand". If you're clutching to that, you're certainly not "one of them" no matter how strong the desire to be.

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1050 post code also means that you may be faced with sending your kids to Tamaki College.

1050 is only a positive for real estate agents not purchasers.

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For my $105000.00 worth.

Rellies had private education and so did my daughter. Was it worth it yes, was it a struggle yes, did I have two jobs yes, would I do it again yes.

Will it pay out in the end who cares, we decided to give our daughter the best education possible the rest is up to her. The education was the best that money could buy, the contacts invaluable and the name that her school has opened doors already.

However there is a down side, peer pressure, extremely cliquey, continually requests for donations despite paying over $105K.

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Whats more telling is where the rich listers send their children. The likes of Banks, Hart, Huljich, Key, Norgate etc all send their children to top private schools. Why? Better networks, opportunities and ultimately likelihood of success.

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It's unfortunate that this article seems to measure success solely in terms of wealth creation. We have some amazing entrepreneurs in the arts, media, culture who have contributed to the success and awareness of NZ worldwide who will never appear on the rich list. Surely the measure of the schools that provide our "successes" shouldn't be made by personal wealth creation alone.

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