World domination off the Terralink agenda - for now

MIKE DONALD, 51, joined Terralink as sales and marketing manager in 2001, soon after the former state- owned enterprise was sold out of receivership to a private investors' consortium.

He soon moved to the chief executive officer role within the Wellington-based data and geospatial products company of which he has a 24 per cent stake.

The biggest shareholder is Ian Taylor's Animation Research.

Mr Donald turned around the former loss-maker within a few years. It now turns over $13 million a year and has repaid all debt.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

It's just in your make-up. At age 11 I was selling and producing enamelled copper jewellery, supplying craft stores in the lower North Island. By age 17 I had three hay trucks and was employing my student mates to pick up hay in the King Country. Entrepreneurs see opportunities and go for them.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your own company?

If you're acting as an individual setting up small companies one of the biggest obstacles to getting any bigger is having enough capital and cashflow.

That's one of the reasons I tried a change in approach - rather than try to develop something on my own and then build it, I got involved with a smaller stake in a larger enterprise as it seemed a better way to go forward.

Name something you've learnt in business.

My father instilled in me a belief that you could do anything you put your mind to but you also need a process around how you do it.

What are your business and personal goals?

My business goals are to build up Terralink as an ongoing successful company that I can leave in good hands when I retire. There's enough opportunity left to not want to wrap it up and sell it and move onto the next one.

We always had the goal of being the leading provider of land and property data in New Zealand and we have achieved that number one spot so the new goal is to be No 1 geospatial solutions provider within three years. We've not gone out to dominate the world as New Zealand still provides a comfortable space for us to be in. Beyond five years it could be time to move into Australia. I see too many companies racing overseas without protecting their space in New Zealand or fully exploring the chances here.

And my personal goals are to better balance working in the business and looking after myself - I want to play squash at B grade which I haven't done for a number of years.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

I have four tips. You only have so much energy so make sure, whatever idea or business you go into, that it's going to stack up long-term. Secondly, have an idea. Taking something to market is only 10 per cent of the process - the other 90 per cent is creating systems for it to get in the market and build customers.

You have to have perserverance - if you believe in an idea, keep on going.

And finally you have to have the right team of people around you as you're never going to do it by yourself. FIONA ROTHERHAM