Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people, in their own words.
Sam Stubbs founded Simplicity, the not-for-profit KiwiSaver provider, in 2016. He had earlier made his fortune in banking, working at Goldman Sachs in London and Hong Kong before returning to New Zealand and becoming managing director of Hanover Group, “for the money”, which he says was a poor decision. He left in February 2009 after just seven months in the job. He has also worked for NatWest Markets, Fay, Richwhite and IBM NZ and been a board member of the Financial Services Council and a member of the Government Taskforce on Financial Services. He has an MA (Hons) from the University of Auckland. A happy memory is of making his first $1000, as a 12-year-old, installing phone extensions in West Auckland at a time the Post Office allowed only one line per house. He used parts scavenged from the rubbish bin at the Post Office repair centre in Henderson.
I'm a Westie. I grew up in Sunnyvale, in Seymour Rd, which is about as West Auckland as it gets. Those Outrageous Fortune people, they were living in Te Atatū North. That’s not the real West Auckland.
I’m the son of high school teachers. I chose my parents well. It was a typical working-poor environment. There wasn’t a lot of unemployment, but no extra money.
I was a first-class shit. I was a thin nerd in a big rugby school, Kelston Boys’ High. Graham Henry was my headmaster and I didn't play rugby so I didn't have a lot of mana at school. I managed to claw my way up anyway, going through the arts and school musical and that sort of stuff. I got beaten up fairly regularly for being a little wimp. When I became a prefect, it became rule by tyranny. When I left, I think I had the school record for the greatest number of detentions given – I basically got my revenge.
I wanted to be a pilot, but my eyesight meant I couldn't do that. Then I wanted to be a lawyer, but I failed law school. I was just horrible at that. And then I didn't know what I wanted to be. So I just took the first half-smart job, which was with IBM. And then, because I'm a Westie, I looked at these guys in investment banking driving faster cars and going with pretty girls. I thought, that's where I want to be. I landed up in banking for entirely the wrong reasons.
My parents gave me great values. I started to feel embarrassed about what I was doing, and the money I was making, because I could see the incredible difference they would make every day for what was a fair salary, compared with the complete lack of good that I was doing for an outrageous salary. So: midlife crisis, finished the job, retire, try and find something to do, and then ended up starting Simplicity when I found a great group of people to work with.
I'm really proud of the people around me, my kids, my family. There's nothing about me that I'm particularly proud of. I was lucky, I was very blessed to have had the family that I've had, and the upbringing. I have four kids – two of my own, and two I’ve inherited with my partner, Amanda, who’s my rock.
At times I've taken career decisions for money and not passion and purpose, and every single time I've made the money decision, it's been a failure.
I don't think I've really ever allocated enough time for the people who matter to me in life. There were times when I would choose another meeting over being with my kids, or a fancy trip overseas instead of going on holiday with my parents. I failed to be the father and son and partner that I would like to be.
Now my kids and my family are absolutely number one. I've had to go through this acquisition cycle – working-class kid makes good, gets money, and thinks that must be happiness, but finds out it's not happiness and goes right back to where he started, which was people.
Having enough money in life is really important but after that it rapidly diminishes and then it becomes a negative. The past 10 years of my life have been divesting. I’ve made my life simpler, getting rid of stuff and turning up for people and experiences and turning down stuff. I drive a car that is 12 years old.
I’m hard work at times. I tend to suck the oxygen out of the room when I walk into it. I'm an extrovert. I'm a peacock and an eagle. So, if you're fighting for attention with me, it'll be a fight. I would hope my friends would say that if they were in trouble, I would be one of the people they would call on and I'll be there for them. But, you know, I can be quite demanding of the people around me. I'm just that sort of person. I've stopped feeling guilty or wrong for that. That's just the way I am.
I love to travel. I like drinking wine, and I like cooking and gardening in the weekends. I'm very unexciting.
I’m not famous or anything but every now and again, someone will approach me on the street. If I'm there with my kids, I find it amusing that anyone would want to talk to me, or even recognise me.
My splurges tend to be for other people. I really like spending money on taking friends out to dinner, and I really like spending it on holidays. I don't like spending money on myself. I used to, but it just doesn't give me any pleasure. I have a nice house that I really enjoy living in.
I’d like to do a lot of sailing. I've got this plan to buy a boat in the Mediterranean and take six months to come back to New Zealand. One of the things I am splashing out on is time on a catamaran that you can take out for five or 10 days a year. I’m a total convert.
As told to Rebecca Stevenson.
This interview has been edited for clarity.