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Rich-lister Jennings aims at education

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 17/07/2016

New Zealand rich-lister Stephen Jennings, who made a fortune in developing Russia, has delivered a withering appraisal of growing inequality in his home country.

The normally publicity-shy Mr Jennings, worth about $980 million according to last year's NBR rich list, is back in the country and has been talking to the New Zealand Initiative and media.

The 56-year-old says inequality issues could cause major problems for New Zealand.

"Including the kind of chaos and lack of intelligent discourse you now see in the US and the UK," he told TVNZ's Q+A programme on Sunday.

"If we don't get in front of those issues the economic chickens and the social inequality issues are definitely going to come home to roost."

He was scathing of the education system, which he said favoured children of wealthier families.

"Our education system is failing Maori and Pasifika students, they are being left behind in a way or to a degree that you don't see in other countries."

He said people were too afraid confront teachers' unions, which was hurting the poor and disadvantaged.

"[It] enables the bottom 10 per cent of teachers to stay within the system throughout their entire careers."

Mr Jennings is now turning his development talents to sub-Saharan Africa and he says New Zealand needs to improve productivity to compete with such emerging and fast-growing economies.

However, there were opportunities for New Zealand in Africa, which hadn't been taken when the Russian economy grew.

New Zealand embassies' trading efforts were "pretty weak" compared to other countries.

"I don't think we hunt in a pack in the way we could. I don't think we are as transparent about what we are trying to achieve, I don't think there's a lot of accountability."

Mr Jennings also said dairy exporter Fonterra's structure was inhibiting its growth. It wasn't brand-driven or highly entrepreneurial, risk-taking business.

"We would be better off having several smaller entities which are forced to compete, forced to build brands, forced to be more innovative."

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