Meet the NZ CEO who caps his salary and gives staff unlimited annual leave

Hamish McNeilly/FAIRFAX NZ

Rocketwerkz CEO Dean Hall offers unlimited annual leave to staff

Dean Hall may be a chief executive, but not as you may know it.

The 35-year-old is the founder of Rocketwerkz, a Dunedin-based gaming studio undergoing rapid expansion and having attracted investment from a Chinese internet giant.

Since moving to the city two years ago, Hall's company now employs 40 people and is on track to reach 100 by the end of the year.

Dean Hall, of Rocketwerkz gaming studio, based in Dunedin.

Dean Hall, of Rocketwerkz gaming studio, based in Dunedin.

And just like its boss, the company is anything but orthodox.

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There is unlimited annual leave, profit sharing, open financial statements, a chief executive who pegs his salary, and Friday sport days.

A screenshot from a zombie survival game DayZ, which was developed Dean Hall, who now CEO of Dunedin-based Rocketwerkz.

A screenshot from a zombie survival game DayZ, which was developed Dean Hall, who now CEO of Dunedin-based Rocketwerkz.

Hall, a former Air Force and later Army officer, made the big time with the success of DayZ – a zombie survival game.

Following that success, he visited other gaming studios and "stole a lot of the good stuff I saw".

On Fridays, staff members are encouraged to bring up anything they are happy/confused/sad about.

Dean Hall, pictured on Mount Everest. He was the 42nd New Zealander to reach the summit.

Dean Hall, pictured on Mount Everest. He was the 42nd New Zealander to reach the summit.

"Major decisions are open, the company's financials are open," Hall said.

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"We think that helps keep you honest."

If Hall wants to fly business class, he has to justify it to his staff. His salary is pegged at 10 per cent more than the highest-paid employee.

"We try and keep the salaries realistic, and instead make lasting changes in people's lives through profit share."

Hall said he wasn't driven by money and after his early financial success, "realised I didn't care that much about money".

Offering unlimited annual leave wasn't offering a perk to an employee, he said, but was offered simply "because it works".

"When someone is here at work we want them in the zone and doing work.

"I think that's tremendous value to the company that people are only here to do work. But that doesn't mean you can spend the whole time slacking off."

Employees are measured for their performance and not the time they spend at their desks.

And would someone be in trouble if they were watching kitten videos?

"Only if they didn't share it."

The company makes everyone take annual leave each year, when the studio closes down over the Christmas break.

"We made a conscious decision at the start of the company that we were going to design all the rules and regulations around the majority of people who are totally fine with it, not one or two people who take the piss.

"I am quite sure 99 per cent of people you talk to in the workforce would say the same thing – don't you get sick of the rules being designed around the one or two people who ruin it for everyone else?

"There are a couple of times we have had hiccups . . .  but we want to do this the right way."

Anecdotally, it appears staff aren't taking much leave over the standard four weeks, but then the studio also offers unlimited leave of other types.

"We send people home if their cat dies, or if someone has had a bad break-up."

The company used to have kitten days, where a cute kitten would provide a distraction from all the computer screens, but that idea was put on hold as space is now limited.

Each Friday staff take part in afternoon sport sessions, under the watchful eye of Hall's own personal trainer.

Hall, who go to the gym everyday at 9am,  said he believed in people making healthy lifestyle choices and encouraged staff to go during work time as opposed to in their lunchbreaks, or after work.

"It just makes so much sense."

Hall said he wasn't particularly concerned with productivity: "The whole success or failure of the studio relies on its creativity, so we would prefer productivity to be terrible and creativity to be tremendous."

Staff are involved in discussions over who got what share when a project is released, "so rather than being a share in the company, it is a share in the spoils of the company . . . like pirates".

The company employs staff from the United States, Czech Republic, Korea, China, Sweden and "all over the show".

Hall said he needed these people for their experience, but then employed New Zealanders new to the gaming industry.

That included one who previously spent 20 years as a diesel mechanic, who is "one of our best 3D artists".

While Hall applauded Labour wanting to grow the country's gaming sector into a billion-dollar industry, that was a conservative target for him.

"I would like our company to make a billion dollars . . . and that's just us."

Hong Kong-based Tencent – "one of the largest companies in the world" – picked up a 25 per cent share in Rocketwerkz in 2016.

That same company bought Finnish mobile phone maker SuperCell for $8 billion – the largest transaction in video game history.

Again, money is not Hall's motivation. After all, he doesn't own a property and is about to embark on his biggest-ever purchase.

He is the proud owner of a 2005 Toyota Celica, but is about to go for a $270,000 upgrade – a Tesla 100D with all the extras.

"I just wanted something safe."

This from someone who has climbed Mt Everest, is planning to ski to the South Pole, and wants to do an edge-of-space jump.

"That is what I prefer to spend money on, rather than cars, houses ... actual experiences."

Not your average CEO.

* A caption on this story earlier said Rocketwerkz developed DayZ. Dean Hall was lead developer on the game before he started Rocketwerkz.

* Comments have now closed.

 - Stuff


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