OCI Week 8: Competing from Down Under

After a long class hiatus we finally got back into it last week on Thursday with the long awaited "Competing in a (not so) flat world / from New Zealand" lecture. Considering we had handed in our assignment a week before I was kind of hoping that everyone had done the readings this time. Skimmed them? Printed them? Next time? You Promise? Sweet. The readings did challenge the untold optimism we're normally able to spout about competing from New Zealand, it was great being challenged to not resort to the standard clichés as a point of good argument but conversations generally tend to drift that way regardless. Most enjoyable however was having previously mentioned Selwyn Pellet in to discuss his experiences as a business owner competing from New Zealand.

On Ownership and Business

"Ownership for me is about having more people on the train"
I think many people from the class enjoyed the business ethic that Selwyn brought to the table. That amongst all the profits was a genuine urgency to have fun and create wealth not just for himself but his friends and New Zealand.
"I think I enjoy seeing other people be able to make choices"
He also espoused much about his theories on ownership, including compulsive VC (vulture capitalists) avoidance and his governance policies for keeping them out.
"There is only one class of shareholder, no preferential shares"

Competing globally

"Communication and culture are the hardest things about going global"
I'm not sure whether or not Deb told him to say that one, but echoing our class themes certainly rang true for all the students in the room. He spoke on the challenges of running a truly global business and the folly of many people who want to have each manager in the direct vicinity of the function. He talked about how the global entrepreneur needs to also be a hardened traveller whose home is on a 747. I certainly hope not, and youthful idealism ignorance is bliss.
"You don't have a management team, you have a virtual team."

The Role of New Zealand for Hi-Tech

"The role of New Zealand is frankly limited"
In talking about the New Zealand Hi tech sector, the truth from Selwyn can be harsh, but hidden beneath the numerous disadvantages of operating globally from our physically distant country, Selwyn enlightened us to the various benefits he has identified running companies from New Zealand.
"Kudos to Helen Clark; we are welcome everywhere, there is not a country in the world that turns it's back on New Zealand"
He attested to the ethical perception that the world holds of New Zealand at the moment. This trustworthy image can become a source of serious competitive advantage. He also referred to the large innovative creative talent that we have particularly in the high tech sector:
"We get less hours out of them and trade on the fact that they are more creative"
However, his perception of employing them in New Zealand was less than optimistic even if it did pay off. It was great to hear his thoughts on the New Zealand engineers especially when compared to Australia. In later conversations he attested that NZ employees on average work significantly harder for considerably less pay, sometimes in the region of 35% more in total cost to company. Overall his thoughts on doing business New Zealand mostly related to the fact that he and his friends think its a great place to live and our people and our innovation seems to be the main things going for it. I think he summarised his thoughts best when he said:
"It's not a bad place to do business, it's just bloody far from everywhere"

Concluding Thoughts

Firstly, Some of the messages he sent you don't necessarily want to believe. I don't think he makes it look easy which is refreshing. Though this is probably not the message that would go in a PR release, it's a lesson that I'm glad as a student at Postgraduate level I have access too. Secondly, there are a lot of challenges facing New Zealanders, but there are things we can do today.
"Kiwis have to get away from investing in bricks and mortar"
Finally, He doesn't put any polish on the challenges that exist if you want to be successful.
"The way I see it there are the 4 M's that form the impediments to success; marriage, management, mortgages and then you get myopia"
But his emphasis on personal resilience and self reliance is advice we can all afford to take.
"If it's got to be, it's up to me"