Future looks global
The passing of business stalwarts such as Sir Ron Trotter and Sir Richard Carter in the past year has left many wondering where the new generation of Kiwi business leaders is coming from. But, according to today's leaders, we can relax – there are plenty of them.
Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly says he sees them often in corporates, on the factory floor or at leadership meetings, flooding him with questions afterwards.
Some, he says, are still shrouded by corporate life and will only be seen when they "pop up in senior management" positions, but others tend to cluster around certain sectors.
"They're in the web, they're in ICT more generally, they're in telephony, they're in that wired community.
"That's a good thing, I think, because that's where, if we're going to catch Australia, it's more likely to be in those areas that we'll need to really shine."
Even in traditional sectors, "if these characters do well, then they'll tend to turbocharge those sectors as well".
Brian Calhoun, head of Wellington software company Silverstripe, agrees. IT will spawn many of our future business leaders.
"One reason is that we deal in ideas, not atoms. We have the biggest levers to pull when trying to engage export growth because what we sell is weightless.
"It's a hell of a lot easier to sell something to a customer on the other side of the planet if the thing that you're selling has no physical weight."
Another reason why high-calibre leaders may be more homegrown in future is that traditional breeding grounds such as law firms or corporates are fewer in number, says former Telecom and Fletcher Building chairman Roderick Deane.
"So many of the major companies are either owned offshore or don't have a head office in New Zealand," he says.
The future leader also tends to have a great deal of confidence, not just at New Zealand level but at world level, Mr O'Reilly says.
"They think of their companies as global, even though they happen to be in Wellington or Auckland. They're usually globally connected so you won't often hear them talk about compliance costs," he says, laughing."That's not their headspace.
"Often they're collaborating offshore, they're finding capital from anywhere, they're getting into all sorts of interesting stuff."
Sarah Kennedy, the former chief executive of Vitaco who is now studying in the United States, believes Kiwi leaders in future will have to have greater international networks to get by.
"I never worry about people being offshore because ... when they do eventually come back, they've formed what I would call these commercial networks which we actually need."
While much is made of the brain drain to Australia, Mr O'Reilly believes there is plenty of talent not leaving these shores and some of it is coming back. The sticking point, he says, will be providing the incentives for them to stay.
"And I can't help but think that thinking global is the key."
Here are just a few of the many names mentioned as those to watch: "Trilogy Girls" Catherine de Groot and sister Sarah Gibbs, the founders of Trilogy skincare, recently sold their firm for up to $20 million to fragrance company Ecoya. They will continue to run the business until the end of the year, but who knows what they will do next?
Business NZ's Phil O'Reilly doubts they will be out of the leadership game for long. He says the sisters are a classic example of how today's young business leaders pick and choose what they want from 21st century and 20th century practice.
"They ran a very good business. Man, I bet you they got their bills paid, I bet you they ran good cash and yet they were doing something quite interesting and quite different."
- © Fairfax NZ News