Before last week, few Australians would've been aware of the antics of millionaire property developer Tim Gurner, who made global headlines after calling for a “painful” 50 percent increase in unemployment to spur “lazy” workers into action.
But the ultra-elite who run in exclusive circles have long been familiar with the Rich Lister - not just from the luxury homes he builds, but for his New Age “cult-like” health spa.
Saint Haven is a facility most regular folk would have trouble imagining - a kind of cross between the American members-only Soho Club and the fictional eerie wellness retreat from the book and TV series Nine Perfect Strangers.
Those with cash to burn flocked to snap up one of the limited 500 memberships offered when the club opened earlier this year, forking out up to $650 per week.
To be accepted, prospective members had to submit to a grueling five-stage application process that included detailed interviews and medical screening.
Gurner said "a substantial" number of hopefuls were knocked back.
Saint Haven, which Gurner describes as a $97 million "health, wellness and anti-aging" brand, opened its first site in Collingwood in Melbourne in May.
It focuses on eight key pillars: social connection, nutrition and supplementation, ultimate luxury, insights and tracking, ancient wisdom and modern science, recovery and anti-aging, movement and mindfulness, and strength and conditioning.
He has described the approach as unashamedly "quite cult-like" and members are given special gold medallions and black wristbands to wear to help them identify each other outside the club's walls.
Gurner, 40, is obsessed with staying young and helping others to do the same, telling The Australian Financial Review: "We want you to live to 100, but not just live to 100 - but live to 100 feeling amazing. That's the aim."
He himself pops between 50 and 60 tablets a day addressing a range of ailments, all based on the results of comprehensive medical screening he undergoes each month.
He told the AFR: "I get about 250 different tests of my bloods, which will say: 'This month you're deficient in (vitamin) D, your testosterone is up or down.' Then the physios, dietitians, doctors on call set my regime."
That extreme “bio-hacking” regimen will soon be on offer to Saint Moritz members, involving regular blood tests, brain scans and MRIs, reportedly at an annual cost of $160,000.
Until then, Saint Haven members have a range of other intriguing treatments to choose from.
There's a 100-degree sauna, typically followed by several minutes in a frosty ice bath, as well as breath work classes held in "meditation cave" and led by one-time rugby league star Eugene Koning.
Inside the hollowed-out room plays a chanting track specially composed by a European extreme athlete-turned wellness guru known as 'Iceman'.
There's cryotherapy, a menu of vitamins and elixirs delivered via intravenous drip, hyperbaric champers dousing inhabitants with pure oxygen, and red light therapy.
Spiritual healing is also on offer for those in search of some mystical balance in their lives.
The club is staunchly alcohol-free but does offer "semi hallucinogenic" cocktails, including a beverage made from kava. Gurner believes that's OK because it's "a natural drug".
"We are having a conversation with members around whether they want some medicinal alcohol, so there's things like 100 per cent agave tequilas, some pretty amazing kombuchas out there," he told the AFR.
Celebrity nutritionist Luke Hines, a former collaborator of paleo-pusher Pete Evans, helped to devise the dining menu.
In one interview spruiking the club, Gurner insisted the clientele would not just be rich and elite, saying he wanted to target "a completely diverse mix" of members.
But then listing examples like "an incredible musician ??¦ one of the top bankers in Australia, a jewellery store owner, an artist, a restaurant owner ??¦"
Gurner plans to open further sites across Melbourne in the coming years, followed by Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, before taking the concept internationally, starting in Los Angeles.Truth about his 'self-made' status
Speaking at the Australian Financial Review's Property Summit last week, Gurner attacked “lazy” and “arrogant” workers, particularly those in the construction sector.
In now-infamous comments, he called for an unappreciative workforce to cop a “painful” dose of reality in the form of an unemployment surge in the magnitude of "40 or 50 per cent".
"We need to see pain in the economy," Gurner told the crowd. "We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around.
"There's been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around. It's a dynamic that has to change."
The tone-deaf comments ignited a firestorm, earning the ire of unions, business leaders and politicians from both ends of the ideology spectrum.
Labor MP Jerome Laxale said it was a viewpoint one might "associate with a cartoon supervillain" while his party colleague Sam Rae described it as a form of "guacamole economics."
Liberal backbencher Keith Wolahan said the developer "could not be more out of touch".
Gurner was turned into memes, described as everything from “obscene” to “offensive”, savaged by social media critics, and eventually forced into making a grovelling apology.
By then, the fury had spread outside Australia, with American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez re-sharing the filmed remarks with the caption: "Reminder that major CEOs have skyrocketed their own pay so much that the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is now at some of the highest levels ever recorded".
The last time Gurner was the subject of broad, mainstream media attention was several years ago when he said the inability of most young Australians to afford their own home was due to their penchant for take-away coffee smashed avocado brunches.
The implication seemed to be that others could be just as successful as him if they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, made sacrifices and diligently saved money.
In reality, Gurner himself has conceded in the past that his early financial prowess was thanks almost entirely to money given to him by other people.
His first foray into real estate investment was an apartment purchased in Melbourne, which he renovated and flipped for a profit, all financed with a $115,000 loan from his boss.
He then secured a $97,000 business loan with the help of a $22,000 gift from his grandfather to open a gym, which later he sold to a competitor for a tidy profit.
In his mid-20s, Gurner went to work for Rich Lister Morry Schwartz, who became his mentor, and at 30 founded The Gurner Group.
These days, the company has thousands of apartments across several developments in the work, with an estimated pipeline value of $6.5 billion.
"The past 10 years has been an amazing period of growth to get where we are," he told The Australian.
"But this is just the basis of a platform to take advantage of where the market is going now. We've got a lot that we want to do."
He's now betting on an "almighty boom" in real estate prices as well as "an almighty rental crisis" to secure his continued success.
"You've got a situation where there's no supply and immigrants are coming back, international students and the Chinese are returning, and so we're going to have an almighty rental crisis," Gurner told the newspaper.
"At some point in the next six months to 18 months, you're going to have an almighty boom. The government is going to have to do something to loosen up lending. So (the market) should stabilise and then take off."The 'future' of residential development
Gurner is worth an estimated $436 million, placing him at 192 on The Australian's Rich 250 list. Meanwhile, the AFR Rich List puts his worth at a much higher $533 million.
Billionaire property developer Harry Triguboff, whose fortune sits at $27 billion, is the boss of the Meriton mega-empire and has described his contemporary as "the future" of the sector.
Gurner's astronomical rise in the space of just a decade shows no signs of slowing.
Earlier this year, Gurner said the company has almost a dozen apartment developments approved and ready to commence, but said skyrocketing construction costs have delayed works.
In addition, real estate finance group Qualitas has secured Gurner more than $1.9 billion in capital investment to supercharge a planned pipeline of build-to-rent projects.
His portfolio of completed projects is impressive. Among them, the high-end Saint Moritz development in St Kilda smashed price records when its 20 apartments went to market.
Residents enjoy a host of luxe amenities, including a private day spa, library, indoor pool, cinema, champagne bar, sports lounge and a chauffeur-driven town car service.
Gurner and his wife Aimee listed their own penthouse apartment in the complex in March for a reported asking price of $9.7 million.
Their sprawling two-story pad features four bedrooms, five bathrooms and six parking spaces, as well as floor-to-ceiling glass taking in picturesque bay vistas, 6m high ceilings, endless luxury finishes, a marble staircase that cost $322,000 on its own, and a mammoth kitchen with a 5 mile long island.
An oversized master suite features a walk-in wardrobe the size of a typical unit, with a private living room with an open fireplace and an ensuite bathroom that comes with a $77,000 custom-designed sauna.
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