Q+A: PAUL HOLMES INTERVIEWS JULIAN ROBERTSON
PAUL HOLMES Julian Robertson, or Sir Julian Robertson, an honorary New Zealand knight, is a hedge-fund billionaire. American. But he says he's too polite to speculate his wealth, but the Rich List put him somewhere north of $2 billion. He first came to New Zealand in the 1970s with his wife and young children. I think he was going to write the great American novel, but that didn't work out. He came up with an idea for hedge funds. But since he went back to the States, he's been coming back ever since - visiting, investing, donating art and scholarships. But he lives in New York City. In New York City, Julian Robertson, good morning.
JULIAN ROBERTSON, Philanthropist Good morning to you, sir.
PAUL How would you describe your obviously special relationship with New Zealand?
JULIAN Well, I would describe it as a real love affair from my end, at any rate. I'm crazy about New Zealand. I think it's the most beautiful place on Earth, and I feel fortunate to be able to spend a little of my declining years there.
PAUL Your late wife, Josie, whom I know you miss very much indeed, she loved the place, yes?
JULIAN She adored it, and I can't tell you the number of times that we would wake up, and she would turn to me and say, 'We're in paradise.' We both felt that way.
PAUL That incredible wealth you have accrued, some put it about $2.3 billion, are you planning to do what Warren Buffett started doing, which is to give half of it away?
JULIAN I've done a lot of that already.
PAUL You have given $5 million to Christchurch earthquake rebuild and relief, you've gifted these paintings to Auckland valued at over $100 million. Why do you do this?
JULIAN Well, I'm in the process of giving things away. I mean, to be perfectly frank, I'm crazy about the Auckland Museum. I'm very partial to the man who runs it. I love the architecture of the museum, and it's my pleasure to be able to do this. I'm kind of in a giving away part of my life, and it's been very richly rewarding. One of the other things that we've done is we've put a lot of New Zealand scholars in two great schools in North Carolina, the University of North Carolina and Duke University. And we probably have 12 or 15 of those scholars in there now, and over the course since we've started, we've probably fully educated six or seven others, or, at best, probably 15 to 20 others. So, at any rate, that's been something I feel real good about - getting these two countries together more closely through the exchange of youth. The giving away of the money puts more pressure on you because other people need it, whereas it's not going to affect me much one way or another whether I make it or not. So it's kind of interesting how you really want so much your investments to do well because then you can do more to make this whole world of ours a little better place.
PAUL These three lodges of yours, nobody disputes their beauty, their contribution to the landscape and so forth. What does excite people about you is a debate about foreigners owning New Zealand, owning New Zealand land. Is foreign investment in New Zealand a good thing?
JULIAN Well, you know, I don't think you can make an all-encompassing statement on that. I think foreign investment in New Zealand from certain people would be a terrible thing. I really do think, though, that we are committed to the environment. I'm committed to a policy of respectful profitability, where our lodges are improvements to the environment. And you've been to some of them. I'll let you say what you think of them. But I'm very proud of the way they have beautified the country, and if New Zealand has any weakness, in my opinion, it is that a lot of the man-made things are not in the ballpark with the God-made things.
PAUL Is it too easy for foreigners to buy into New Zealand?
JULIAN I think it's fairly difficult, but I've never really bought in much anywhere else, so I'm really not an expert in that. I've had some very good friends, though, that have and would have been good stewards of the land, and the authorities made it so difficult for them that they eventually gave up and turned their projects over to other people. So it's really not as easy, Paul, as a lot of people think to purchase land in New Zealand.
PAUL Do you think New Zealanders are too paranoid about foreigners investing here? One study that came out recently back in August suggests that New Zealand's returning to kind of a fortress mentality.
JULIAN I'm not really qualified to pass judgement on that. I really can't see what's wrong with people who are buying property in New Zealand which helps the economy, which doesn't deprecate the landscape. I am not one of those that believes that New Zealand is pollution-free. And, in my opinion, you need to be better stewards of your land. I think you need tougher environmental restrictions, and the foreigners ought to be held accountable for those, but so should be the citizens of New Zealand.
PAUL But, again, the worry the man on the street has, Julian, is that when a non-national buys property in New Zealand, sets up business here, the profits are exported back out to China or the United States or wherever. Do you agree with that?
JULIAN Well, their taxes are paid, payrolls that are made - all of that which benefits New Zealand. It's very favourable for New Zealand to get this type of thing and to increase their taxes and to move ahead.
PAUL What are our strengths in the international marketplace? What are our weaknesses, do you think?
JULIAN I think your great strengths are your agriculture, and I really believe one of the strengths that you're not properly utilising are your tourist facilities. You could do a lot more to encourage tourism, you really could. I mean, it's the most beautiful place on Earth, and loads of people have never been there.
PAUL Wall Street, Julian. Let's go back to your patch, Mr Robertson. Have the bankers learnt lessons, do you think? Is the money safer now?
JULIAN I don't think the money is a whole lot safer, and I don't think it's really so much the bankers that are responsible for that. We had a kind of do-good government. I think most governments that try to do good, do do good. No question about it. But some of the best-laid plans go awry. And we wanted to have everybody to own a home, every family own a home, and with that we had very lax laws and encouraging laws which helped people buy new homes. And we had an enormous inflation in homes.
PAUL Julian Robertson, I thank you very much. It's been most gracious of you to give us your valuable time. It is much appreciated. I wish you a good day.
JULIAN Listen, I always want to talk to you, Paul. It's great to talk to you again, and thank you very much, sir.