Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our top businesspeople and politicians, in their own words.
David Seymour (Ngāpuhi) has been MP for Epsom and Act leader since 2014. In the third term of the last National-led government, he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Education and Regulatory Reform. A graduate of the University of Auckland, he has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a BA in philosophy. He worked in Canada for five years as a policy analyst. He is credited with shepherding the End of Life Choice Act through Parliament, and with boosting Act’s party vote from 0.5 percent in 2017 to 8 percent on election night this month, provisionally bringing nine list MPs into his previously one-man caucus.
I grew up in Whangārei. I went to a decile-one intermediate and boarded at Auckland Grammar. My politics has always had a strong strand of education and opportunity, charter schools being the clearest manifestation of that.
I was the eldest child in my family. My younger brothers were excellent training in dealing with problems.
My student life was a game of two halves – very diligent up to the end of high school, less so once I hit university. I spent a lot of time working for money, volunteering and coaching rugby teams. In my last year, I got into the Act on Campus youth group, so between that and Auckland University’s Shadows bar my transcript isn’t what it could have been.
My early career was pretty frustrating. My first job was working on a telecoms project that got cancelled in my second month. My second was modelling circuit-breaker hierarchies for superyachts. About that time, I got offered a job in Canada so I took off on my OE.
Moving to Canada was like a second degree. I worked for two private-sector think tanks. I also got to explore North America and see a world far bigger and more complex than Whangārei, or even central Auckland.
My hardest political lesson was realising that writing a book on policy alone won’t get you votes.
Covid-19 hasn’t really affected my outlook on life but we should think harder about black swan events.
My best piece of political advice is from the former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party Michael Ignatieff: “Know who you do your politics for.” For me, it’s for people who aren’t born with great opportunity.
The biggest misunderstanding about politics is that too often we confuse good intentions with good outcomes.
My family are really supportive. At one point, my dad was wearing a T-shirt he got printed with my face on it. Thankfully, he’s stopped doing that.
I have a sports car. It’s fast. It also shows what a great country we can have. Scratchbuilt sports cars are very lightly regulated, but because enthusiastic people care, it’s safe. I understand I couldn’t have built it in many countries as you have to crash-test your car first!
The last thing I splurged on were a pair of sunglasses, but they lasted only a week. If you find a nice pair of Persols in a taxi, please contact me.
As told to Victoria Young.
This interview has been edited for clarity.