My career started the traditional way, many moons ago, running a lemonade stand, collecting coke bottles, mowing lawns, and basically doing anything I could to turn a dollar. While at university in the late 80s I installed computer systems for a legal firm, and worked in hospitality as a waiter at the Regent Hotel in Auckland. I also worked in the family handcraft/souvenir store, Earthworks, in Parnell, Auckland.
Computers were my favourite toys. My Dad had been into computers since before either the Mac or the PC (those were the days), so even though there were no computers in schools I was a lucky kid with access from a very early age.
Earthworks and The Regent were a brilliant introduction to customer service, and to sales. And I guess the bottom line is that working in a family business also teaches you to do what needs to be done. There's no point saying, "It's not my job."
On my first tour of duty through university, I dropped out. I was having way too much fun with my girl friend, earning too much money installing computer systems … and basically I had chosen all the wrong subjects. But I learnt a lot, I just forgot to go to the final exams... It's a good thing I've grown up since then.
I briefly moved back into the family business, having been promoted from the position of "child slave", but my friends teased me about working for "Mummy and Daddy". I realised they might have a point, and I didn't feel I brought much new to the table, so I soon decided I needed a new challenge. On holiday in Australia I applied for a job with Fuji Xerox, but on return to New Zealand I was told I was too young - at twenty I would have been their youngest account manager by about ten years. I was so in distressed I said to the Xerox State Manager, "What does my age have to do with it?" I told him I'd be at work the following week, and he must have been a little shocked as there was a desk waiting for me.
That was another lesson: If you don't ask, the answer's no.
My new job was meant to be just a 12 month contract, but I met my wife to be, Sonya, about two weeks after arriving, and was engaged six weeks later.
I know I'm sounding impulsive, so you'll be pleased to know I stuck with that job for about seven years, regularly holding the top sales position in the country but also struggling at the bottom at times. Selling at Xerox could be like that, especially when you changed territories.
But I always had the entrepreneurial spirit running through my veins, and always had the intention of returning to New Zealand. Eventually we did, in 1996, when our business only had about twelve staff, but with bold ambitions to go international. It's been an exciting but at times challenging journey since, with our team and revenues now many times multiplied.
Public Speaking: As CEO I'm very proud of the group of companies we've built, and of the awards and media recognition we've received in areas as diverse as human resources, customer service, IT, exporting and innovation. I'm also proud to have had the chance to speak publicly about what we've learnt along the way, much of which has been pioneering, to organisations like these:
University of Auckland Business School MBA Programme
Better By Design
Unitech Business School
Unitech Design School
Telecom and Microsoft for the Chambers of Commerce
Mentoring: If you have a serious project you'd like some help with, or an opinion about, let's talk.