Kiwi makes a meal of the Gherkin
This is the fourth in a series about Kiwis working overseas, who retain ties to home through Kea, the World Class New Zealand network. Kea connects more than 180,000 talented Kiwis and "friends of New Zealand" around the world.
Investment bank chief executive and Kiwi expat Kent Gardner has been living in the United Kingdom for more than a decade and says he never lost ties to New Zealand.
Gardner runs Evans Randall, an investment banking business with a portfolio of about £2 billion (NZ$4b) and a rent roll of well over £100 million, in London. While doing so, he acts as trustee of Christchurch Earthquake Appeal UK and is a member of the New Zealand Olympic Council in London. In 2012, he was named UK New Zealander of the Year.
"I've never lost that strong attachment to this country," says Gardner.
He studied law and commerce at Otago University then worked for Russell McVeagh in Wellington as a finance and tax lawyer before moving to England.
Together with two other partners, fellow Kiwi Paul Kendrick and Michel Evans, he turned Evans Randall towards commercial real estate investment across the United Kingdom and Europe. It has since completed more than £8b worth of real estate transactions. Gardner, who lives in Regent's Park with his wife and three sons, was made chief executive in 2008.
"We have a very straightforward approach to what we do - and I put this down to the Kiwi element. People know us for this and we've built a strong reputation on doing what we say we will and doing it quickly.
"I personally think that being a Kiwi has been an advantage to me in our business. I don't fit a particular ‘box' or the English view of what's acceptable or expected. I'm straight up and down about who we are and what we do."
The biggest challenge for his business in the past year has been finding real estate investment opportunities. International investment in top-quality London assets is reaching saturation point, Gardner says, and the market has been dominated by long-term safe have investors buying at top prices.
The company's strategy is currently diversifying globally across a range of asset times and locations.
Q: What have you achieved professionally overseas that you couldn't have in New Zealand?
A: Being able to access once of the world's most important real estate and financial communities, with the opportunity to co-invest in excellent assets alongside investors from around the world. The market is open, transparent and extremely liquid. London is one of very few global markets to offer such opportunities.
The scale of the deals is just not achievable in New Zealand. At the end of 2006 we purchased the 40-storey Lord Foster-designed 30 St Mary Axe building (affectionately known as the "Gherkin") which, at the time of purchase, was the biggest single asset deal ever to be done in the City of London in a 50/50 joint venture, for £630m.
We were able to use the Gherkin to raise money for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. We created StepUp4Christchurch and 1000 volunteers ran, walked or staggered up the 1037 steps, 180 metres to show their support for the people of Christchurch, raising $650,000 in the process.
Q: What is the first thing most people say to you when they hear you're from New Zealand?
A: It's a great conversation-starter to say "I'm from New Zealand" and it's always met with a warm reception. Many people in the UK know New Zealand, having either travelled here or seen New Zealand on TV, worked with some outgoing Kiwis, or have Kiwi friends or relations. Depending on what's been going on, comments can range from admiration of our sports teams - especially in rugby season - our culture, our beautiful country and our friendly hardworking people. Often people say, "why would you want to live here?"
Q: Do you have any investments in NZ? If yes, in what (property, stocks etc)?
A: I invest extensively in New Zealand. Investments include technology start-up companies www.fundit.co.nz, the easy way to find the best mortgage deal, and www.investit.co.nz, where you can auction your deposit to get the best interest rate, as well as investing in property, and the primary sector including dairy farms and viticulture.
Q: What are the top three lifestyle qualities you enjoy most about your current location which you could not enjoy in New Zealand?
A: The opportunity and diversity that London offers as an intense, vibrant and exciting global city. The immediate access to the countries in Europe and beyond.
Q: Kiwi companies wanting to break into overseas markets are often told they need to have a presence on the ground in those markets but financially and in terms of staffing this is often not possible. How important do you think it is to have a presence on the ground?
A: Like all things, it depends on the type of business we're talking about. A real estate investment business is a local business. For us, being located in central London is key. At the same time, for New Zealand-based businesses looking to access European markets, initial contacts and networks are extremely important as it's from these that opportunities can be created.
I know that Kea, together with its World Class Network, is working hard to create networks and introductions for New Zealand businesses in the UK together with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and I know of excellent Kiwi-owned businesses that have had success with these services.
Q: What do you think is the most important question for this year's New Zealand elections and why?
A: I'm not really close enough to the issues to comment in any detail but at a more macro level, after a totally debilitating global financial crisis, when compared to the countries in Europe, New Zealand is very well-placed and I think it's important for New Zealanders to recognise this.
The key issue for European economies is the level of government debt and the lack of flexibility that that gives in a low growth environment. The focus on government debt in New Zealand and reducing it has been key. Whereas Irish government debt is over 100 per cent of GDP and UK government debt is pretty much 90 per cent of GDP, New Zealand's government debt is below 30 per cent of GDP.
That's very important now but it's also important in terms of the legacy and flexibility that we leave for New Zealanders in the future. The New Zealand Government has had the foresight to focus and deliver on this key issue.
Q: What do you miss most about NZ when you are overseas?
A: Family and friends and the friendly, relaxed and open Kiwi way.
Q: When people tell you they're visiting New Zealand, what's the one place you tell them they must go?
A: Waiheke Island - there's so much to do here and it's relaxing and totally beautiful!