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. 

Cambridge-raised Nick Mowbray showed entrepreneurial flair from a young age, helping his older brother Mat to make hot-air balloons out of Coke cans and plastic bags in a shed on their parents’ dairy farm. On a whim, the boys left New Zealand when only 18 and 22 and set up a toy factory in Guangzhou, China, with financial help from their mum and dad. Two years later, they were joined in business by their sister, Anna. The company, now known as Zuru, has grown to be the world’s sixth-biggest toymaker, with a staff of 8000-plus. With its subsidiary, Zuru Edge, which specialises in fast-moving consumer goods, it has an annual turnover nearing $1.6 billion from sales in more than 120 countries. In 2017, the three siblings famously bought the Dotcom mansion in Coatesville, Auckland, for $32.5m. The following year, EY named Nick Mowbray New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year. 

I was full of energy as a kid. I loved sport – I was competitive. Academically, I was not very strong. I was in C or D class coming into high school at St Peter’s in Cambridge. But I always had the aptitude to work hard to get better. 

I’ve got three siblings. We were always competing. Pretty much every day after school, we'd have some kind of two-on-two sporting event. We competed on everything.

My dad pushed us to do lots of things. He always made us work on ideas and work pretty hard. He instilled confidence in us. He wrote, “There’s no such thing as can’t”, on the noticeboard at home. Mum taught us people skills and about respecting people. 

When I was young, I wanted to be an artist, which is a little strange, because I can't draw or paint or do anything very creative.

I’m really proud of the business we’ve built. We self-funded it right from the start with $20,000 and we’re on track for $1.6 billion in revenue this year. 

We’ve had so many failures. We just didn’t know what we were doing for so long. We developed so many products in the early days that failed, just one after another. I could go on and on about our failures. We just didn't want to lose, so we just kept fighting.

What failure taught me is that you have to keep persisting. You either win or you learn.

I used to not deal well with stress. I got very unwell with Crohn’s disease. If you see a photo of me from four years ago, I’d lost all my hair and I was so skinny. I was down to about 66kg. I was on the edge of a pretty dangerous state. I had to have my whole large bowel removed – which I wish I’d had done sooner.

Nick Mowbray in 2007.


These days, it’s more of a “can’t stop” stress that wears me down. We’ve got so many things going on across the businesses. We don’t have money stress any more; it’s more like a constant adrenaline stress – always being on. I have to be careful, but I’m not very good at it.

I think that to become successful, you need to be obsessed with something, and it needs to be fun. Because otherwise you're not going to be good at it, you're not going to put the hours in. It doesn't matter if you're failing at it, you keep doing it because you actually love it. 

My best business advice is to think big. It's like that saying about “eating the elephant”. It's amazing how quickly those small steps cumulate, and you get to that big goal quickly. I think we underestimate what we can do in the long term, and we overestimate what we can do in the short term. 

I love golf, I'm obsessed with it – it’s like meditation for me. I try to exercise a couple of times a week. I do a bunch of stuff like basketball, or get out on the water. I tried Reformer Pilates, which was good.

I don't really get a great deal of reward from buying stuff. Sure, I have things that are nice and can make life more convenient, but really, I get fuelled by the competition side of business: working out how to crack something, building the team to work on it, and being proved right. For me, that’s exhilarating.

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