Rich Lister John Spencer of Caxton paper fame dies

New Zealand’s reclusive and once wealthiest individual, John Berridge Spencer, has died aged 81.

Mr Spencer, who topped the NBR Rich List in 1986 and 1987, was the son of Berridge Spencer, who built the Caxton paper empire into the country’s largest pulp and paper producer.

Caxton Printing Works was founded in Auckland by John Spencer’s grandfather, Albert, in 1890.

Berridge Spencer expanded the business after World War I, opening a mill at Kawerau and a printing works at Henderson.

Caxton Pulp & Paper established a monopoly in tissue, toilet paper and other household products. John Spencer ran the company for seven years until it was sold in 1988 to Carter Holt Harvey for an estimated $300 million.

The company also invested in the Finnish pulp and paper industry, the link being John Spencer’s wife, Tytti Laurola, who died of cancer in 1992, aged 54.

At the peak of the late 1980s sharemarket boom, Mr Spencer had an estimated net wealth of $675 million. But much of this was lost when his investment in companies associated with Rod Petrevic and Bruce Judge collapsed in the 1987 crash.

Unlike many others, Mr Spencer paid off his debts.

The Spencer family has extensive business interests around the world and in the latest NBR Rich List had aggregate wealth of $720 million.

While the family avoids all forms on publicity, it fought a long and unsuccessful battle on Waiheke Island, where it owns the Man O’ War vineyard, to restrict access to the historic Stony Batter estate.

The family also owns a large residential area of Stanley Point, near Devonport, across Waitemata harbour from Auckland city.

Another property interest was the Spencer on Byron Hotel in Takapuna. 

Mr Spencer’s younger brother, Peter, who had extensive business interests outside of Caxton, died in 2008.

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