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Former refugee joins rich list

Published: 6:55PM Thursday August 16, 2007 Source: ONE News

From zero wealth to a $60 million fortune - that's the rags to riches story behind Manukau-based real estate king Don Ha.

The 38-year-old Vietnamese refugee, who made his money in real estate, and more recently horses, has made the National Business Review rich list for the first time.

Ha came to New Zealand as a nine-year-old. He and his family were penniless refugees - forced to flee Vietnam when war broke out and his Chinese father was no longer welcome.

They first went to Hong Kong before arriving in New Zealand in 1980.

Ha's family opened the first in a string of south Auckland bakeries.

But Ha was determined he wouldn't work in one and instead began importing shoes and belts from Asia.

He began his real estate career in 1994 and has since sold more than $200 million worth of property in the South Auckland region.

"In a way I'm setting examples, and I hope that other people say that if they have a hard time - they can achieve a similar result," says Ha.

"I want to achieve 10 times, 20 times, or 100 times what I achieve now."

Ha has a rapidly developing passion for horses.

At the national yearling sales in January he shocked the racing world with a successful bid for the first colt out of champion race mare Sunline for $2 million.

Now, he is developing a 14 hectare thoroughbred property near Pukekohe.

"My ambition is to be in the top 10 in the country in the horse business," he says.

If Don Ha has his way he will join the billionaires club before he's finished.

That is a club which has grown this year, according to the revamped rich list, which contains five individual billionaires.

Graeme Hart is still top of the class, but there are two first timers.

Irish-born South Island property magnate, Eamon Cleary, has leap-frogged - from $280 million to more than $2 billion.

Stephen Jennings, the Taranaki investment banker who heads Renaissance Capital in Russia, could be worth even more than his estimated $1 billion.

"We've got him at a billion dollars, he's gone up by about $800 million which is a quite a rise and there have been other reports about him being worth a lot more," says Brett Thompson from the NBR.