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 

Guy Horrocks (entrepreneur): Christ's College, Christchurch

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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