Silicon Valley CEO Craig Elliott's love affair with New Zealand

Entrepreneur Craig Elliott and his wife Lisa fell in love with New Zealand on their honeymoon 20 years ago, and are ...
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Entrepreneur Craig Elliott and his wife Lisa fell in love with New Zealand on their honeymoon 20 years ago, and are excited to move here for good.

How many Silicon Valley chief executives drive utes to work, or eagerly check their calendars each morning to see if they can swap dress shoes for hiking boots?

It's no surprise Craig Elliott was named 'Friend of New Zealand' in last year's World Class NZ Awards. Clearly he was a Kiwi in a past life.

The former Apple executive likes to emblazon 'FTC' on computer screens at his tech start-up Pertino.

Steve Jobs, right, gave the 23-year old Craig Elliott a Porsche after he sold more Macintosh computers than anyone else ...
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Steve Jobs, right, gave the 23-year old Craig Elliott a Porsche after he sold more Macintosh computers than anyone else in the United States.

It stands for 'feed the cows'- a nod to both his origins as a farm boy in the Midwest and his take on getting things done.

"If you're in Iowa, and it's approaching 40 below, and the tractors won't start, you still have to feed the cows, even if it's two buckets and a shovel and 1000 head of cattle," he says.

"You will feed the cows, you will get this done and I don't want to hear the excuses."

Elliott mystified one interviewer when he said the most important attribute for being a successful Silicon Valley boss was owning a ute.

"I may be CEO, but I took my pick-up to the furniture liquidators and filled it up with chairs. I got my screwdriver and hung these whiteboards I'm looking at right now."

He's excited about having just finished off his New Zealand residency application and is keen to become a New Zealand citizen down the track.

One of the things he likes about Kiwis is their ability to get on with the job instead of dithering - and bodge if necessary.

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"It's the number-eight wire mentality. I love that. It excites me."

About 15 years ago, Elliot went back to his home state to offer his help, but didn't find the same culture of enthusiasm.

"I was like, 'You guys are never going to get anything done. All my assets are going to New Zealand. Sorry guys, love ya, but I'm done."

Now Elliott's dedicated to helping Kiwi tech companies and individuals make it big on the world stage.

He's friends withTrade Me entrepreneur Sam Morgan, with the pair both owning properties in Wanaka.

Morgan and Elliott are directors of Kiwi Landing Pad, which was established to give high-growth New Zealand technology companies networking opportunities and help find their feet in the United States.

Elliott has also set up a scheme called InterNZ, bringing Kiwi computer science majors to California to do work experience at Pertino.

Now he's ironed out the wrinkles around the likes of visas and social security numbers, he's calling up his mates to try and get as many as 20 or 30 students ensconced in several different companies this year.

He's also working on getting behemoths like Apple and Cisco on board.

It's mutually beneficial, Elliott says. Companies can focus their highly-paid engineers on the toughest work, while interns gain invaluable experience.

"They get to sit next to a Silicon Valley engineer with maybe 20 years of experience. They meet a lot of people, they make contacts, they have an ongoing connection."

Elliott says young New Zealanders have certainly got the goods.

"Our engineers are just knocked off their feet when they see the stuff these guys are doing."

But confidence is just as important as technical skills. By the time the students fly home, they have code in production running in 30 data centers around the world.

"They walk away going, 'Hey I can do this'."

Elliott knows all about the fear factor. With a degree is in animal science and microbiology, he was "more nervous than you can imagine" when he arrived at Apple.

"There were more people in my first building in Apple than my entire hometown."

His big break came during a year off university. Working at a local computer retailer in Iowa, he sold more Macintoshs than anyone else in the United States, earning him an invite to California to meet the Apple executives.

Famously, Steve Jobs gave him a Porsche.

Elliott's love affair with New Zealand began on a business trip as Apple's Pacific general manager.

"One of the guys said stay the weekend and go down to the Coromandel. I had a phenomenal time."

Elliott and his wife have been visiting since they honeymooned in the South Island 20 years ago and recently spent a year living in Wanaka with their three children.

He says they have great friends in New Zealand. The sort you can't make in a bustling city where "I could throw a rock and hit four million people".

Elliott recounts a story that had his stateside mates flabbergasted.

"I was sitting in the house in Wanaka. All of a sudden I hear the door open, someone walks up the steps with a bottle of wine and pulls glasses out of the cupboard and says, 'Hey, I'm your neighbour."

While he's pouring his expertise into helping Kiwi tech firms and individuals, he laughs when asked if he has any qualms about giving future rivals a leg up.

"By the time they get around to being competitive, I'll be long retired to Wanaka, fishing up brown trout."

Who is Craig Elliott?

- Worked for Apple from 1985 to 1996, including as Pacific general manager.

- Took IT start-up Packeteer from a three-person company to a market valuation of over $2 billion.

- Co-founded and currently runs Pertino, another start-up aimed at reinventing networking for the cloud computing age.

- Director of Kiwi cloud accounting firm Xero.

- Strategic advisor to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

- Married to Lisa, with three children; Adam, Wes and Samantha.

 - Stuff

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