Entrepreneurs hailed for taking a risk
OPINION: It's easy with our daily diet of news stories to feel somewhat gloomy about New Zealand's economic prospects. As a nation we have low growth, low productivity, low incomes and high debt.
And in looking to the export sector to help boost NZ Inc, we need to switch from our dependence on a small number of companies trading a big number of commodities and instead grow both the value added component of what we sell to the world and the number of those doing so.
That's why the Morgo conference I attended last week in Queenstown - an annual shindig for Kiwi entrepreneurs that venture capitalist Jenny Morel organises - is such a refreshing change.
The bunch of entrepreneurs in the room collectively see opportunity where others might see gloom - they're willing to take risks, to give it a go, even to fail. The good ones know if it's not working, to fail fast and move on to the next thing.
This was the 10th Morgo conference and inevitably led to some comparisons to previous years. As a regular attendee I thought it was one of the best yet, primarily because some of our biggest, yet most humble exporters told their success stories.
Those stories were kicked off by Datacom chief executive Jonathan Ladd talking about the technology services company's ability to take risks because it is unlisted and has long-term shareholders that take a long-term view. With 4000 staff and $788 million in revenue, the company is now a major player in the IT and services sector across Australasia and has made a toehold in several Asian countries.
Phillip Mills, who's part of the group of corporate leaders pushing for a green growth strategy via Pure Advantage, talked about the Les Mills story. In 1980, Mills developed the fitness chain's brand of exercise-to-music systems. Programmes are now distributed to more than 10,500 fitness clubs in more than 60 countries with an estimated four million participants weekly worldwide.
Entrepreneur of the Year Bill Buckley told his rags to riches tale. His company, Buckley Systems, makes machines containing electromagnets and is the world's largest supplier of silicon chips, which are a key component in most modern technology including flat screen televisions and computers. A keen spotter of new markets, Buckley is now shifting his attention to the emerging market for proton therapy, a new, non-invasive cancer treatment. It will comprise a good and growing portion of his revenue this year.
It was a tough act to follow, but Jeremy Moon from merino clothing company Icebreaker, had his own rags to riches tale to tell. He's in the midst of transforming his global business model from selling through distributors with a few flagship retail stores into an integrated company split between wholesale, retail and e-commerce. His ambitious goal is to grow Icebreaker into a $1 billion consumer brand from New Zealand.
Murray Holdaway, from Vista Entertainment Solutions, proved an unsung hero with his story about being a global leader in cinema management software. The $30m turnover company has marketed its software to more than 50 countries and has a goal of doubling its current world market share to 50 per cent. He even won an award at the conference dinner for having gained 65 per cent of the Indian multiplex cinema market, a country many find difficult to penetrate.
I've only touched on the big operators: Morgo also featured some cool start-ups that are ones to watch for in future - think PowerbyProxi and Ike GPS. There were also success stories told by ex-pats who are little known back home - think Claudia Batten from crowdsourcing ad agency Victor & Spoils and ZoomShops founder Gower Smith.
Morel is already talking about where to hold next year's event and if you want a good dose of optimism about our economic future, try to score an invite.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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