Sky Network Television founder Craig Heatley was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012 at a black-tie event in Auckland last night.
The 56-year-old is best known as the founder of Rainbow Corporation and Sky TV.
He was selected from a field of five category winners named in August. The other finalists were Rakon chief executive Brent Robinson, BayCity Communications founding director Barry Payne, MedRecruit founder Sam Hazledine, and NZ Tax Refunds founder Cilla Hegarty.
After buying his first investment property at the age of 15, Heatley set up the initial Lilliputt mini golf site in Taupo with a business partner in 1979. The business was to morph into Rainbow.
When Rainbow merged with Brierley Investments in 1987 it was valued at $600 million.
Sky TV, one of New Zealand's biggest startups, could not have happened without the success of Rainbow, Heatley said. The pay-television operator now has a market capitalisation of $2 billion and employs nearly 1000 people.
Heatley has a new project in the wind but is keeping the details secret for now. He will only say he is "excited about a new opportunity of worldwide significance".
The greatest prerequisite for being an entrepreneur was courage and the entrepreneurial spirit showed itself early in life, he said.
"It's all about seeing an opportunity, a niche, a gap in the market, and then delivering."
Heatley will represent New Zealand as the country's winner at the global Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards in Monaco next June.
Awards director and Ernst & Young partner Jon Hooper said Heatley had a track record of building businesses over the past 30 years in New Zealand and globally. "More recently, what he's looking to do is combine the entrepreneurial skills he has developed over those years with the network and connections he has, potentially creating a very exciting opportunity." Heatley "thinks and acts from the heart as opposed to the head", Hooper said.
"Unlike a lot of entrepreneurs, he spends a lot of time focusing on the downside, with the assumption that if you focus on the downside, the upside will take care of itself."
Hooper told last night's gathering that entrepreneurs had a big chance to lift economic prosperity, yet did not have a seat at the table with policymakers. "It is entrepreneurs, not governments, that create jobs. I believe it is the Government's record on job creation which will prove to be the critical issue of the 2014 election."
Hooper said Ernst & Young was talking with government ministers in the hope of giving entrepreneurs more policy influence.
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