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.

Brien Cree’s passion for the aged-care sector was sparked by his frustrations trying to find a suitable facility for his mother after she suffered a stroke. Some of the retirement companies he visited seemed more focused on their real estate operations than on looking after their residents. He felt they trumpeted their care facilities, but mainly as a marketing tool to get people to buy in. So in 2003, he launched Radius Care and set about underpinning its work with the philosophy he developed on the sort of compassionate care the elderly and the frail need. It has since grown to 22 aged-care facilities, and he remains its majority shareholder. 

I’m a Hutt boy, born in Lower Hutt. I grew up in the Catholic school system and went to Saints Peter and Paul School. I rebelled a bit and got sent to Hutt Valley High School, where my academic achievement went downhill very quickly.

I have four sisters. Our parents split up when I was eight. You don't get away with anything when you're being brought up by five women. Intuition became a normal part of life, which has helped me a lot in my business career.

I learnt from my father how not to be. My mother taught me independent thought and she was the person who, more than anyone, is responsible for my business success. 

As a teenager, I rebelled against everything. Leaving school early was part of that and I went through numerous jobs, working on building sites. I was a crane driver for a while. For a long time, I didn't really settle anywhere workwise. Then, when I was about 22, I moved into sales and was quite good at it.

I started my first business when I was 23. A friend and I started making brass bedsteads, selling direct to the customers. I was also buying and selling cars to supplement my income.

Brien Cree in his teenage years. Photo: Supplied.


My OE was in South America. My girlfriend and I spent six months backpacking and she got hepatitis and was very sick. We came back to New Zealand and I also came down with it. Then I got post-viral depression. 

I'm always mindful of my mental state. I think it goes with the territory a little bit: if your thinking is very expanded, seeing or looking for all possibilities and not accepting the norm, you can get overwhelmed with information.

I’d probably call myself an outgoing introvert. I've always been very introverted and I don’t always like social situations, but I've learned to conduct them in my own way, so it appears that I'm absolutely fine.

I'm not the guy who needs all these people around me to make me feel good, but I do enjoy people's company. 

I've had a fairly significant business failure. I was in my early 30s and I had a lot of rental properties, in partnership with a friend, and we ended up getting overstretched and having to sell everything to avoid bankruptcy. 

One of the most important things that experience taught me was that I am not my business. Because it did take a couple of years for me to recognise that it wasn't me that had died. But like with a lot of adversity, good things came out of it. I decided that I wanted to do something that added value, something that had a social conscience. 

I started again with absolutely nothing, at 32 years old. I was properly broke and my sister re-tailored one of my brother-in-law’s suits so I had a suit to wear to my job. 

The best advice I've been given is to try to stay in the moment. Things happen in life which are pretty brutal at times; you’ve just got to try not to take it all too seriously. 

I spend most of my weekends at my bach in Omaha (75km north of Auckland). It’s a good little community out there. I'm into surfing, foil boarding, boating, fishing – anything around the ocean. I’ve surfed my whole life; it’s a meditative experience. I make sure that any house I live in has a view of the sea. It’s one of my rules.

I've always ridden motorbikes. I’ve got a Harley-Davidson which I ride to work in the summer. I'm passionate about cars. I've had an endless stream of exotic cars. I’m definitely a bit of a petrolhead.

I'm pretty happy if I've got a nice car to drive and I can play in the sea.   

As told to Jacqui Loates-Haver. 
This interview has been edited for clarity.