CEOs Uncovered: Glenn Milnes

19:35, Sep 04 2014
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Ike GPS chief executive Glenn Milnes

In the third of our five part CEOs Uncovered series, Ike GPS boss Glenn Milnes says taking a company to the market is a full time commitment.

If you're leading a company on to the NZX, you had better enjoy your job and get on with your colleagues.

Two weeks ahead of its share market debut on July 23, ikeGPS chief executive Glenn Milnes admitted there was "no downtime".

"I've got three kids, aged one, three and five, and they certainly help you keep your feet on the ground, but growing a company like this is a full-time requirement," he says.

Work isn't always on his mind, but "pretty much", he says. His biggest chance for reflection is on long haul flights to the United States, where the company is building up its marketing team in Colorado.

"It is a great time to take three steps back. It doesn't sound very relaxing, does it?" he laughs. Milnes says he wouldn't have it any other way.

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"It has been so stimulating and we have got such a good team of people it doesn't feel like bad stress.

"However he has been looking forward to the end result of the listing; being able to spend more time with customers, and masterminding the technology firm's sales push.

IkeGPS makes hardware and software that can be used to model, photograph and accurately record the location of objects from a distance. That's a bigger technical challenge than it might sound given the need to master three dimensions and involves the integration of laser range-finders, inclinometers, compasses and GPS chips.

At a mini-assembly line at its offices in the Wellington suburb of Newtown, a myriad of brightly multicoloured electronic components sit carefully organised in plastic trays, like the geeky equivalent of a candy shop.

But Milnes - a former provincial cricket player who studied entrepreneurship at Imperial College in London before careers in the European telecommunications industry and with venture capital firm No 8 Ventures in Wellington - says it is the relationship side of the business world that most interests him.

It is also the part of the job that has expanded fastest with the decision to list, "building relationships and trust with the investing public and institutions", he says.

Trust is paramount given the company raised $25m at a valuation of $55m despite turning over only $1.9m in 2013-14.

Investors are putting faith in a global licensing deal ikeGPS secured late last year with General Electric. GE will badge ikeGPS' devices and on-sell them to customers in the electricity industry where they will be used to help monitor assets such as power poles and pylons.

"We operate in probably one of the most unglamorous, slow-moving markets you could possibly think of - the electric utility market, an industry characterised by real risk aversion that is very relationship-heavy," Milnes says."

We have spent years now investing in partner relationships and customer relationships and all that is just now starting to bear fruit."

One of the practicalities of listing is ensuring the company will conform to the continuous disclosure regime demanded by the NZX. Because ikeGPS has had institutional investors since "almost day one", it already had a lot of those disciplines in place prior to the IPO, Milnes says.

"But it certainly sharpens your awareness of what is going to be required as a public company."

Staff members have been reminded about what they can say about the business to friends and family.

"We are lucky we are not the first company to go through this and there are some really great policies and tools to make everyone aware of their obligations."Not everything changes with a listing, Milnes stresses.

The core requirements of his job, "leading the vision and the management team", remain the same.In fact, one of the challenges for a CEO is to keep your eye on the business during the intense listing process, he says.

Not untypically, the float has also coincided with a rapid increase in the company's workforce - from fewer than 20 a year ago to around 60 - which brings its own demands.

Milnes doesn't believe those people are expecting instant pay rises.

"We already had a really big vision for the business and the IPO, for us, is just about a growth capital round to grow the business further."

Although ikeGPS is one of a batch of small-cap tech firms that are tapping the public market through IPOs, he says they aren't hunting as a pack and its business model has little in common with some of the cloud software firms that have lit up the exchange.

"There probably should be more of a community than there is, I'm guessing. But one of the things about building an international business from New Zealand is everyone is so busy with their own company there is probably not the level of interaction and community that people might expect." 

The quick questions

How do you handle the stresses of your job?

“There’s not much to gain from stressing about elements that you cannot control, and you’re not doing your job if you aren’t managing down risks and solving the problems that can be addressed. Getting home to put our (kids) through the bath also puts most things into perspective – bath time is pretty damned stressful in our household.”  

Did you always think you would be a CEO?  

“Not really. I started my career as a (very average) cricketer, but was then lucky enough to work alongside a couple of truly great CEOs in international tech businesses in a mix of roles and then on the finance and investment side in the venture capital industry. So it was only after experiencing growth companies from a range of different operating angles that taking on CEO positions felt appropriate.”  

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

“I picked up three points towards my initial Otago University degree by passing a dance and gymnastics paper. It was a compulsory course – and I have no doubt that I would have failed if not for the fact that the tutor couldn’t bear the thought of my return for another semester.”

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