The 2012 Influencers: five different styles

CAITLIN SYKES
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012

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Unlimited's list of 2012's most influential people in business features many different approaches to success - here are five of them. 

THE COLLABORATOR

Ruth Richardson is a year into chairing the Kiwi Innovation Network and she's clearly still feeling the love. "KiwiNet," she ventures, "is where ideas come to have sex."

KiwiNet was set up to make better bedfellows of its six university and four crown research institute (CRI) constituents and extract greater commercial value from the ideas they create. The country's science and innovation ecosystem may have previously been characterised by fragmentation, but Richardson says KiwiNet has stirred genuine passion for the possibilities collaboration can bring.

"It's all very well to write words that say 'collaboration' and 'build greater connections'," she says, "but to achieve it in practice is another thing entirely. I'm all for demonstrating by doing."

A couple of examples of that collaboration in action include a biopesticides initiative between Lincoln University and the CRI Plant and Food, says Richardson, and an animal health product also being worked on by Plant and Food in partnership with the University of Waikato's commercialisation arm WaikatoLink.

"It's very gratifying to see that you can move the dial, even in 12 months," she says.

Everywhere you look, collaboration seems to be occurring in the New Zealand economy. Richardson is one of a number of Influencers who'd perhaps make the list for their individual contributions to particular organisations alone (the former finance minister also chairs Jade Software and Syft Technologies, for example), but are also using their significant influence to galvanise support for wider causes.

While Richardson is helping crank commercial value from our science and innovation sectors, former prime minister Jenny Shipley is marshalling the talents and resources of senior women - through the Global Women network she chairs - to hammer home the value of diversity to our companies.

Then there's Tenby Powell, harnessing the power of social media to give small and medium businesses a voice through the New Zealand SME Business Network he created with wife Sharon Hunter.

Their projects are different, but the reason for their actions is the same: we need to work together to do things differently if we want the good ship NZ Inc to sail on smoother waters.

"We shouldn't be afraid to be pioneers," says Richardson, who says KiwiNet could be an example of world's best practice for commercialising science and innovation. "[We need] to enunciate what really matters in all of this, which is we have to be able to think more inventively about how we generate new wealth."

Echoes Shipley: "We all have to do something different and something new to maintain our standard of living and sphere of influence ... certainly Global Women's leading group believes that unless we keep reinvesting and recreating our thinking collectively then we risk lagging behind."

Global Women was set up in 2009 as a network for the country's most influential women, but they immediately recognised the need to grow the pipeline of talent to help address our woeful levels of female representation on company boards and at CEO level.

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Women hold just over 9 per cent of directorships in the top 100 companies on the NZX and there are only two women CEOs in the NZX top 100.

That's despite research showing that when both men and women sit around the leadership table you get smarter commercial outcomes, says Shipley.

Global Women has been working on a number of fronts - nurturing talented leaders to land senior executive and board roles through its Women in Leadership Breakthrough Leadership Programme, holding forums, collaborating with like-minded groups and lobbying.

THE COMMUNICATOR

Vaughn Davis wrote New Zealand's first book on social media, Tweet this book!  - but don't call him an expert on the topic. It makes him "feel a bit sick".

"It's so new you can't really be an expert," he says. "There's no degree you can get; there's no course you can take that's worth the time that you spend on it."

Nonetheless, Davis is considered a leading light in social circles.

The book has allowed him to use the moniker 'author', which has opened doors for him to give seminars and speeches on the topic. He also talks about social media each week on RadioLive.

Davis was an early adopter, getting on the social media wagon in the early MySpace and Bebo days.

He was formerly creative director at advertising agency Y&R New Zealand (he's now creative director at his own outfit, The Goat Farm; it's one of many hats he wears, but that's another story). He began exploring social media out of a sense of duty to clients, he admits, but quickly became "deeply engaged" - especially with Twitter.

"It's an incredible source of information and inspiration. By the time you're following a few hundred or a few thousand people you see this incredible river of ideas flowing under your bridge," he says. (At the time of writing Davis had close to 5000 followers and was following just over 4000.)

"Then the flip side of that is the follower community that you establish is based in part on your preferences and interests so what you've created is an incredibly powerful knowledge network. So if I need an opinion, fact or answer to a question often my Twitter circle will give me a much more useful answer than any search engine."

Davis says his influence in social media has been spread primarily through his book, but also through his work as an educator. But he's not about to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account for you.

"There's a huge chunk of people, especially when you get over [the age of] 35, who think it's too hard and it's not for me and I try to demystify that," he says.

"I'd love to do myself out of a job in that respect. I mean, you don't have someone come round and tell you how to use the telephone, do you?"

THE INNOVATOR

When Ngati Pukenga's almost century-old wharenui (meeting house) burned down in 2006 it was a tragedy for its Tauranga community. But in a strange way Rahera Ohia wonders if it was meant to happen.

Ohia project managed the rebuild, completed in just two years. It needed all the resources the small iwi of around 7000 could muster. Hidden talents were exposed and extended, she says; ambitions for the new building were many - and most were realised.

It proved when you don't have much, you have to innovate, Ohia says.

Ngati Pukenga, because of its size, can't expect a large settlement when it finishes Treaty of Waitangi negotiations with the crown later this year. Given the iwi's limited material resources, Ohia, who is also Ngati Pukenga's lead negotiator, started considering how the iwi could think innovatively to get its people ahead.

Late last year the iwi formed a strategic partnership with the Icehouse business development centre as part of its aspiration to become 'the innovation iwi'. The partnership is expected to focus on ways to lift the capabilities of the iwi's biggest asset, its people, and provide tools to channel entrepreneurial and innovative thinking, she says.

"We won't have widgets. You won't find an iPhone app coming out of us.

"The innovation we can bring is around developing the models and processes that enable the uplifting of our people at the other end of the [economic] spectrum."

Icehouse CEO Andy Hamilton says Ngati Pukenga's relatively small size fits the formula for innovation, which often comes "from the edge not from within". He describes Ohia as "quite visionary".

Of Ngati Pukenga, Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Mahanga and Ngati Raukawa descent, Ohia comes from a family of high achievers and cites her whanau as her biggest influence - particularly her grandfather, Hone, a mathematician.

"I believe in people's latent talents," she says. "When we rebuilt our wharenui, I saw those talents come to the surface and now the wharenui's been built, they've kind of gone into hiding again. We know what the potential is. We know what excites people and we know what we can do about it."

THE HUSTLER

Startup Weekends have caught on in New Zealand with the ferocity of a forest fire. The idea, if you haven't heard, is to bring together a bunch of (mostly) strangers on a Friday night to team up and, with the help of some high-powered mentors, spit out a bunch of businesses 54 hours later.

This year around 800 startup addicts are expected to line up for the exhausting experience. And they've got Jason Armishaw to thank.

Armishaw brought the concept to New Zealand after coming across the idea on the internet.  

He emailed the guys driving the movement in the US to express his interest in running a Startup Weekend in New Zealand, fully expecting to be told he couldn't. They said yes. 

"So I found myself diving headfirst into an event I'd never heard of before, or had any experience with running. Within two months we had our first event with 52 attendees," he says. "I just hustled as hard as I could."

That first Auckland event was a little over a year ago. There have since been Startup Weekends in Wellington and Christchurch and there are plans for events in Palmerston North, Tauranga and Dunedin this year.

Armishaw cites a number of reasons for the events' success. For one, you can learn more in a 54-hour Startup Weekend, he reckons, than in a year at business school.

Aspiring entrepreneurs are also attracted by the chance to pick the brains of the wise heads who mentor the teams.

Then there's the buzz. "We just love to help out and see early stage companies get together and the vibrancy and the energy it pumps out."

Armishaw is no longer actively involved in organising Startup Weekends, but he says their success has always been due to the similarly passionate startup fiends who pull them together.

He's now got his hands full balancing a day job with his own startup, Borrowed Size, which he's working on with his fiancee Jil.

It all sounds a bit like doing a Startup Weekend - exhausting, but exciting.

"I'm definitely a hustler, definitely a connector," he says. "I love a great idea and I love, to quote Guy Kawasaki, the art of the start."

THE CONNECTOR

Vinny Lohan is in India when Unlimited calls. He's been travelling in that country for six months, visiting eight cities. But what's he actually doing there?

"Have you ever played that game where you connect the dots and you make a figure?" he asks.

"For me I'm putting a lot of dots on the paper... And I have no idea how these dots are connected to each other. I really don't. Right now it's about making connections everywhere and at some point the dots will start to join themselves and I'll just sit back and say, 'hey I had no idea this was possible'."

Needless to say, Lohan is a big picture guy.

He's not long out of university, but has already garnered a swag of accolades for his entrepreneurial efforts addressing major global issues.

While studying engineering at the University of Auckland he and some buddies came up with software that shares information with students in remote areas using radio waves. That idea scored the team top place in Microsoft's Imagine Cup technology competition in New Zealand in 2010 and third place in the software category of the same global competition.

The following year OneBuzz, another team led by Lohan, won the cup in New Zealand with an idea that used technology to tackle the curse of malaria.

"These problems don't even exist in New Zealand, but we can solve them - and anyone else sitting anywhere in the world can do that as well. It's about setting an example."

NZICT CEO and Influencers judge Candace Kinser first met Lohan in India in February and was immediately struck by his entrepreneurial passion.

"He is one of those people who has so much potential and enthusiasm and common sense, but at the same time he doesn't know there are limits," Kinser says. "He just goes 'okay, let's go'."

In recent months, while exploring the Indian market (he lived in the country until his teenage years, when his family moved to New Zealand) he's spied another opportunity. New Zealand is great at generating software ideas that look good and have global appeal, he says; India has the engineering talent to make them a reality.

Lohan wants to create a technology platform that would bring the two together. Oh, and make some money in the process. 

"That's what I'm going to do in the next five years; I want to create something massive as an ecosystem and say, 'if I can do it, you can do it as well'."

- Unlimited

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