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Zhik 2024 February Outlet - LEADERBOARD

The mystery backer of Team NZ

by Greg Ford, Sunday Star Times on 27 Feb 2007
Emirates Team New Zealand NZL84 prepare to round the first top mark in their first final match of the Louis Vuitton Act 12 against Alinghi SUI75. Chris Cameron/ETNZ

From Sunday Star Times

His name is Matteo de Nora, he's an international man of mystery and if Team New Zealand brings home the America's Cup this year, we'll owe him a $20 million debt of gratitude. The Sunday Star-Times can reveal that de Nora is one of a small network of wealthy international and New Zealand businessmen underwriting the team's cup challenge.

He appears to live a playboy lifestyle in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and is from one of Italy's richest families.

De Nora is the first of the network to come forward after Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton decided to speak about the 'team's untold story' last week on their departure for Spain because New Zealand needed to know what role the benefactors had played.

'Without them we would not have a challenge - it's as simple as that.

'When I came on board after we lost the cup in 2003, Team New Zealand had no money, nothing, even before the government came to the party. I didn't think we would get through the first month, so I had to find someone to pay the electricity bill at the base, for example.

'I picked up the phone and rang Matteo (a supporter of Team NZ's 2003 campaign) and this bloke is the reason why we're now going to Valencia.'

De Nora was modest when asked about his business interests, saying he owned an engineering firm that sold batteries. But research has revealed he hails from one of the richest families in Italy.

The de Nora clan owns a business empire that spans the globe. Gruppo de Nora designs and markets sophisticated fuel cells, which it manufactures in about 500 family-owned factories from China and Japan to Russia and Brazil. Its financial holding company Norfin turned over 200 million euros ($373m) last year. It has assets worth about 150m euros ($280m).

Matteo's role in the company appears to be behind the scenes, but his name appears alongside Michele De Nora, the family company's boss and public face, in at least one business deal in Brazil.

The rest of the family do not have a public profile, but in keeping with the family's entrepreneurial streak, Matteo has patented a new method to detect blood-coagulation status.

About five years ago de Nora bought a large super yacht, built by west Auckland boat builders Alloy in 1993. The 34m sloop called Imagine was fitted out by North Sails and Southern Spars. The companies declined to comment on their business relationship with de Nora - and for good reason. He is thought to have commissioned a second super yacht and has requested privacy.

However, Dalton said he often entertains Team New Zealand members on Imagine, which is registered as 'Imagine B' with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, is skippered by Kiwi Richard Low and is often moored in Auckland's Viaduct Basin.

De Nora said he owned 'a property' in Northland: a search of land register files shows it is a 500ha block near Russell worth $13.5m. He also appears as a director of a New Zealand-registered company which has overseas shareholders.

After coming to New Zealand in the mid-1990s, he fell in love with the country.

'Matteo's story is not unlike at least two others in the network I can think of,' said Dalton. 'They get a super yacht built here, they say 'Let's buy some property,' then they start travelling the country. They love it and want to give something back.'

De Nora was involved in the last campaign as a supplier of batteries, expertise and a small amount of finance. 'But the moment I saw the mast snap in 2003, I knew I was going to get involved more,' he said.

'It broke my heart. I was in San Diego (when Team NZ won the cup back in 1995) and was involved on a minor level in previous campaigns. But that's when the emotional attachment with the team started.

'I knew the team was better than that, so when Grant called...'

Many of the network have offered their expertise and business contacts as well as money. De Nora said the benefits were mutual.

'It's not just about the money. I know some of the other teams and first of all your contribution would not be acknowledged.

'Secondly, they are big-budget organisations and you would not get the feeling you're making a difference. Everybody here not only feels, but they know their piece makes a difference.

'I'll probably speak to Grant 20 minutes a day, watch some of the races on my boat, not all of them, and that will be about all the contact I have.

'But if Grant wants something or needs a problem solved, he knows he only has to pick up the phone. Team New Zealand won't be alone in Valencia.'

Republished in full with permission of Sunday Star Times

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