Expat looks to future customers

16:00, Dec 31 2013

When Grant Harrison first landed in London during Margaret Thatcher's tenure as prime minister, he ran the customer loyalty programme for supermarket chain Tesco.

Harrison was at the forefront of developing consumer loyalty programmes in the way we use them today, working with the IT department to specify and build a loyalty function into till systems.

He led the 1995 launch of Tesco Clubcard, which now has more than 15 million members. He has worked in customer marketing for Sky Television, Vodafone and Harrods.

He shifted to the United States in 2004 and set up Virgin HealthMiles, a health rewards company with more than 1 million customers.

Harrison then worked for American healthcare company Humana where he launched B-cycle, a joint venture with bike company Trek providing bike-sharing systems around the world.

Since returning to London three years ago he has built up his business, The Future Customer, which he describes as the culmination of his customer loyalty and data analysis experience. It has a £2 million (NZ$4m) turnover.


Recent clients include Honda UK, the Daily Mail and Saudi Arabia's luxury retailer, Rubaiyat. It is currently setting up a data science team in Singapore and just signed a £5m joint venture for a data analysis and customer experience business in the Middle East.

Harrison recently sold his house on Waiheke Island as his plan of spending three months of the year in New Zealand proved to be a challenge.

He loves London for its buzz and proximity to Europe, the Alps and Pyrenees for skiing and cycling.

This Christmas he planned to come home to do what he dubs the great North Island Extravaganza, visiting Auckland, New Plymouth, Levin, Wellington, Taupo, Bay of Islands and Waiheke Island.

What have you achieved professionally overseas that you couldn't have in New Zealand?

The scale and innovation in customer strategy that I have been a part of in the UK and the US just can't be rivalled in New Zealand. At Tesco when we launched Clubcard we signed up 6 million people to the programme in the first year. We had 200,000 staff. The scale and opportunity over here [in Britain] mean that you get access to money and people to do incredible things.

Also, especially in London, you continually work with and meet people from all over the world. Different perspectives and techniques and attitudes help you to learn and think differently.

What is the first thing most people say to you when they hear you're from New Zealand?

The first thing they say is, "Wow, I've always wanted to go there". The second thing they say is: "You're very tall for a hobbit".

What are your thoughts on the clean, green image New Zealand has overseas?

Clean and green is great for food products, although I wonder if the "food miles" argument is a growing challenge for commodity products from New Zealand. We certainly need to work to ensure we never lose this positioning. But I would also like to see us building much more on our innovation and design smarts.

Finland came up with the mobile phone which touched hundreds of millions of people. We can do the same with the right focus on investment in people, training, high-speed broadband, and early round venture funding.

What do you think is the most important question for next year's New Zealand elections and why?

I'm not sure as an expat whether I'm fully entitled to say anything here. But to throw in a thought: which party is promising compelling long-term investment in education, digital infrastructure? Vote for them.

How important do you think it is for Kiwi companies trying to break into overseas markets to have a presence on the ground?

Being on the ground is an investment that pays back. If you can find a way to build the business without it then good on you. But I think it's a price of doing business. Just making a phone call to New Zealand from this part of the world at a convenient time takes some organisation - I don't think you can ask a prospect or client to work around that.

Spotted any Kiwi products in the UK recently?

The best New Zealand products I see all the time are Anchor butter (in my fridge now), Greywacke Sauvignon (ditto) and more and more New Zealand-run coffee shops - making the best coffee in London.

I'm surprised and impressed to see Xero doing so well. We are thinking about using them for our company.

When people tell you they're visiting New Zealand, what's the one place you tell them they must go/eat/do?

They must eat a lamington, bungy jump, climb Ruapehu and swim in the Pacific on the same day, drink Speights, buy some gumboots and eat some blue cod they have caught themselves.