Retirement Life
18 May 2023

Meet Sir Mark Dunajtschik - Senior New Zealander of the Year 2023 Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau


On the face of it, Sir Mark Dunajtschik is like a lot of 87-year-olds. He moves a little slower and can’t hear as well as he used to. He has known real deprivation and believes in the transformative value of a hard day’s work. Perhaps it’s this that keeps him humble despite his extraordinary achievements.

“I’m no good at PR or profound statements. I just do the job!” he says as his opening line.


Despite this, Sir Mark is not like most people

An extremely successful property developer, he owns several iconic buildings in downtown Wellington. But he’s even more legendary for his largesse.


In September last year, he and his life partner Dorothy Spotswood attended the opening of Wellington’s new children’s hospital: To Wao Nui, having kicked off the project with a donation of $53 million, almost half the final costs. Sir Mark was subsequently awarded a knighthood for services to philanthropy.


He didn’t stop there

A few weeks after adding Senior New Zealander of the Year to his scroll of accolades, Sir Mark announced he was leaving his entire fortune to the Nikau Foundation to support people born with mental and physical disabilities. At around $450 million, it’s thought to be one of the largest bequests in New Zealand’s history.


“I feel happier knowing there’s an organisation following through on my wishes and Nikau is ideally placed for it. In this way, [the bequest] should last decades, or even centuries,” Sir Mark says.


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He derives great contentment from his philanthropy, particularly when he hears from people who’ve directly benefited. And he’s proud of the awards, though characteristically self-effacing when asked if there’s an accolade he hasn’t won.


“Well, I’ve collected a lot lately. On one hand I’m flattered, being a senior citizen, but on the other it indicates you’re going to fall off the perch soon!”


There seems little risk of that. Sir Mark works just as hard now as he always has, spending up to 45 hours a week in his office, plus additional time at home with Dorothy, who manages the finance and administrative side of the business.


He’s had to make some concessions, though

An inveterate mountain man, his eyes light up when he talks about the “wonderful terrain” of the Tararua Range and the Southern Alps. But he gave up his beloved skiing last year – at 86 – and while still a keen hunter, it’s on flat ground nowadays. He speaks of the comradery of the hunting and classic car clubs he belonged to with great affection.


Sir Mark is not one for waxing lyrical on the nature of happiness or success; he’s never given it much thought. He supposes success is achieving a good standard of living and being able to put something back into the community based on your achievements. Making an indelible mark on a cityscape doesn’t hurt, either.


“In my case, when I drive around town and know that I own this building and built that building it makes me feel content that I have achieved things.”


He credits hard work, “wise and risky investments”, and optimism for his own trajectory.

He’s still an optimist: “Very much so. Absolutely. No question about it.” But his message to younger generations is there are no short cuts.


Pictured: Sir Mark Dunajtschik, Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year 2023 Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau

Pictured: Sir Mark Dunajtschik, Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year 2023 Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau

“The situation these days is as good as it was in the 50s and 60s, you just have to approach it from a slightly different point of view. But opportunities are there if you’re prepared to make the sacrifices and not live like [you] want everything rewarded now. Save up and go without for the next 3-5yrs and create a foundation so you can invest. But frugal living is something the modern generation doesn’t like!”


Aside from the wear and tear of living a busy, active life, age is of little consequence to Sir Mark.

“I take great satisfaction that I can still contribute. I started [the Asteron Centre], my biggest building, when I was 65 and I don’t regret it at all. My sister tells me I’m blessed that I have [my business] and haven’t been sidelined by society. I would be lost if I had no reason to get up in the morning. It gives me a great boost to know I’m needed,” he says.


Sir Mark and his team recently finished earthquake strengthening the Asteron Centre – Wellington’s largest single office building – and are now turning their attention to another of his buildings, which he says will occupy him for the rest of this year and probably most of 2024.  


“And then I’ll retire,” he says with a grin.


After half an hour in his company, I don’t believe a word of it. His grin widens.

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“I always tell people who ask that I’ll retire three days before my funeral.”


Photo of Vanessa Glennie
Written by:

Vanessa Glennie

Vanessa is Head of Communications at Lifetime Retirement Income. She’s an experienced investment writer, having spent more than a decade writing about financial markets in the global fund management industry.

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