Nurturing the potential of NZ entrepreneurs – and showcasing their achievements
As Director of EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program, Darren White has seen first-hand how creative and innovative New Zealanders can be. It’s something that we, at Robert Walters, see every day too, which is why we’re sponsors of this year’s awards. We caught up with Darren to discuss the importance of identifying potential and celebrating exceptional talent in business..
Q: At Robert Walters, we believe there’s real value in recognising people’s achievements in business, which is why we’re sponsoring this year’s EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. Darren, why do you think it’s important to celebrate these accomplishments?
Darren White: The key word there is ‘people’. Our awards aren’t for ‘business of the year’ or ‘financial results of the year’ – we are highlighting entrepreneurs; real people doing amazing things. It’s about their achievements and it’s about acknowledging that they are on a journey, which may not be complete yet by any stretch. But the recognition of the awards can help encourage these remarkable people to go on and achieve ever greater success.
Q: That strikes a chord with us, because Robert Walters’ purpose is powering people and organisations to fulfil their unique potential. How else do the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards help to spur people on?
Darren White: Well, it’s very much about peers. Our judges are independent and many of them are former winners themselves. So, there’s a collegiate atmosphere at the awards. People make connections, share experiences, and informal mentoring takes place. And of course the profile from the awards can also help entrepreneurs to increase their visibility among potential investors and collaborators.
That’s good for the whole country. When New Zealand’s entrepreneurs succeed, that translates to some of the nation’s most important buyers, innovators, exporters and taxpayers.
Q: There’s also a benefit for New Zealand’s workforce too, right? At Robert Walters, we meet so many talented people who earned their stripes at New Zealand’s most successful start-ups.
DW: Absolutely. We’ve had people participate on the program who were previously employees at businesses that appeared in the awards. Entrepreneurs are role models and many of them create environments that foster innovation. It’s a virtuous circle.
There’s also another side to this too: When a NZ founder sells their business, that doesn’t just benefit the founder themselves. So often, we see those people reinvest back into the NZ ecosystem for new ventures that are coming through. They support the next generation.
Q: When we meet candidates who’ve worked for leading entrepreneurs, we see how much those individuals have learned from being part of a rapid growth story. They’re often good at working under pressure, strong at problem solving, and very commercially minded. So they’re hot property in the job market. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are seeking to retain their best talent?
DW: Entrepreneurs are the experts when it comes to their own businesses, of course, but in my discussions with them one of the things that comes through is being honest, consistent and direct with your people. The more frequent and transparent your communication is, I think the more ‘buy in’ you’ll get from employees.
For the entrepreneurs in our program, their ownership and decision-making sits here in New Zealand. That’s also something they can turn to their advantage. The workforce sees and respects that local commitment.
Q: New Zealand is a small country but appears to hold its own, internationally, when it comes to creativity and innovation. Why do you think that is?
DW: Well, for one thing, I think we turn our size to our advantage. In a small market, high achievers do rise to the surface – our awards are evidence of that.
And the fact we are geographically remote seems to instil a certain independence in our businesspeople. We have to do things differently and find our own solutions sometimes.
Q: If you could change one thing to further nurture and support entrepreneurship in New Zealand, what would it be?
DW: If you ask emerging or growth companies within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, they'd point to the lack of accessibility to capital; the lack of funding from our capital markets.
To be fair, we’ve got a good number of seed/incubator/angel organisations providing smart capital, and the level of activity and experience has been growing, You could make the case that listed companies could do more to help entrepreneurs who are going through that growth phase, noting that some have established programs, particularly in the tech sector.
I don't have an easy fix for that and, for a country of our size and scale, there will always be a challenge to support particular needs of a geography, sector or individual. The key is all entrepreneurs having access to the best investors and mentors that are right for them.
Q: So, we’ve talked about challenges and we’ve talked about strengths. On balance, are you optimistic about the future prospects for entrepreneurship in New Zealand?
DW: Oh, absolutely. One the delights of being involved with the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year program is the constant arrival of fresh talent. I never cease to be amazed at the entrepreneurs who come forward and the types of businesses that they’ve created. And you only have to look at the way some of our universities are delivering degrees and programs for students, as well as the mentoring and support available for existing businesses. There are some absolutely world-class alumni coming through. Then you look at this year’s finalists for our awards and their achievements – each one is amazing in their own right. There are many reasons for optimism.