Announcing the 2012 Ernst &Young Entrepreneur Of The Year category winners
Five New Zealand entrepreneurs took top position as category winners in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards for 2012. Only one entrepreneur will go on to represent New Zealand at the World Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards in Monte Carlo next year.
The category winners are:
- Products: Brent Robinson, Rakon
- Services: Cilla Hegarty, NZ Tax Refunds
- Technology and emerging industries: Barry Payne, BayCity Communications
- Master Entrepreneur: Craig Heatley
- Young Entrepreneur: Dr Sam Hazledine, MedRecruit
In addition to the category winners the judges awarded a commendation for outstanding commitment to entrepreneurship to:
- Chris Dobbs, Working Style
New Zealand’s 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year will be announced at an award banquet on Thursday 18 October 2012.
You can find out more about each of these category winners below.
Brent Robinson, Rakon
Brent Robinson’s first invention—a go cart hand built from second hand parts—propelled him backwards largely because he forgot to check the gearing. The lesson learned of testing creations and paying attention to detail has meant that his entrepreneurial focus ever since has been in the correct direction.
A fascination with electronics—especially radio and communications—prompted Brent to take on an apprenticeship at Pye Electronics located in the small town of Waihi. He became involved in TV production and exports to Singapore only to find when the operation was purchased by Philips they closed it down.
Disappointed but not down he transferred to Rakon Industries—manufacturers of quartz crystals for the local telecommunication industry. There he found a productive niche in the development of quartz crystal production and test equipment. At the same time Brent ‘multitasked’ by completing several Diplomas in Industrial and Digital Electronics, Microprocessor Control and Robotics.
Newly married at 23 he moved to Australia as engineering manager to set up a new manufacturing operation for Rakon Pty Ltd in Melbourne. Part way through the whole venture almost short circuited as the general manager and marketing director were way out of their competence zone. It was up to Brent to set up the manufacturing operations and then market the crystals into the competitive Australian market.
After three years Rakon had taken a 50% market share. The channel crystal business was shrinking so he knew that some new inventions and innovations were required.
His brain child—a Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TCXO) which was essential technology in the emerging cellular phone market—held the key. A contract with NEC gained momentum until a series of financial setbacks in some of Rakon’s sister divisions looked set to put the brakes on growth.
With the help of family he set up Rakon Limited. Ever since the company has become world leader in the development, marketing and production of frequency controlled products. Equally it has led the way in miniaturisation and performance serving telecom, automotive, defence, space and consumer markets.
Rakon has nine manufacturing facilities including China, India, New Zealand, United Kingdom and France plus 14 market support office worldwide. With 2,100 employees (including those working in joint ventures) Brent has shown that big business grows out of creating small things.
Cilla Hegarty, NZ Tax Refunds
It used to be that the only certainties in life were death and taxes. Now, add a third for with the creation of Cilla Hegarty’s NZ Tax Refunds if you have tax owing, and involve her venture in the process, some unexpected cash will land your way.
As tax experts with accountancy backgrounds, her team has helped thousands of clients throughout New Zealand get their share of millions of dollars of overpaid taxes held by the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department (IRD). In a way that is efficient, cost effective and, most importantly, without risk. The bonus, Cilla says, is the huge number of spontaneous combustion moments of joy—referred to as ‘WooHoo’ moments—when an unexpected cash windfall comes her client’s way.
The idea of making a profit from a process all about separating people from their money might seem counterintuitive but NZ Tax Refunds is already returning a healthy income. Already Cilla is well on the way to building the long-term, sustainable, socially responsible company she envisaged. Her plan now is continue to grow and deliver revolutionary products and services all over the world.
The drive to succeed has been part of her story from an early age. At 15 her father became ill and her mother had to step in as a breadwinner. In the mid 1980’s, with her first baby at the age of 25, Cilla established Happy Nappy Cleaners which was an environmentally ‘friendlier’ cloth nappy cleaning service that was at least 15 years ahead of the ‘green movement’ taking wing.
In the early 1990s, she launched A C Accounting which offered a range of services to sole traders and SMEs primarily with investments in residential property. It was there that Cilla had the idea of automating and simplifying the tax refund service. At the time there was only one other company operating in the sector. They worked largely from shopping malls and used a paper based system, and IRD calculator, to deliver their version of tax refunds.
Given the complexities of the tax system, and the requirement to have to liaise with the IRD, the desire to make the process easier would be a very hard task. The first innovation required was a legally acceptable online signature. Incorporation of this signature into the ground breaking NZTR technology was made possible through the company's next innovation – Alpha. An initial $200,000 investment followed by another $300,000 to add further enhancements were all part of the resources she committed to creating the company.
The next major accomplishment was to develop the unique, automated software package which would form the cornerstone of the company’s success. Sir Gil Simpson, the Jade Software founder who revolutionised the New Zealand banking system, was contracted to develop this. From there the company, and the ‘WooHoo’ moments continued to grow.
Barry Payne, BayCity Communications
The ‘information super highway’ in the form of greater broadband capability and connectivity is a critical part of any economic sector’s productivity and enhancement. Up until recently the ‘highway’ has ended at the city limits leaving one of New Zealand’s most productive sectors—agribusiness—rather poorly served.
With greater investment and thanks to the contribution of people like Barry Payne, what was once a country lane of service is now reaching full capacity.
Living literally in the rural-heartland, Barry discovered he had to make do with poor internet access and an inadequate phone service. He soon realised his problem was a nationwide experience for most people living in rural New Zealand. His wonderment as to how the rural economy could possibly prosper without high speed connectivity everywhere and a first-world telecoms service prompted action and the creation of his company.
BayCity has been at the forefront of investing in rural broadband connectivity, information technologies and customer services. Operating under the Farmside brand the ‘roll out’ has provided a full range of range of telecommunication products and services to bring out the best in what the country has to offer to the national economy.
Armed with previous experience in successful start-up businesses, Barry began BayCity in 2000 by acquiring the assets of a small Timaru ISP as a base to develop his plan for rural telecommunications. His approach was like the sector he serves—plain, simple and highly effective.
“We brought in young people and developed our own in-house expertise in wireless, satellite and DSL aimed at providing high-speed connectivity as an adjunct to Telecom’s services - where they stop, we take over. I’m no technology guru. My skill is to look ahead, identify something I think customers will need, and then encourage the business to make it happen. The development and commercialisation of our M3 remote monitoring system is a great example of what young people can achieve if they’re given the opportunity.”
He quickly realised that a consumer isn’t after brilliant technology but rather a reliable and relevant solution that fits them and their needs. Having said that Barry understood that having leading edge ICT capabilities was essential in order to deliver on the promise of consistent service, thus the brand Farmside was formed.
As a result BayCity secured the available New Zealand capacity to iPstar-1 satellite and followed this up with an investment decision to acquire and own all of the relevant assets needed to deliver satellite broadband to rural and remote customers throughout the country.
Funding a multi-million telecommunications network, while simultaneously growing a customer base to achieve the forecast break-even density, was a challenge. But today the Farmside brand is well recognised throughout rural New Zealand and holds strong strategic partnerships with New Zealand’s long established and trusted rural supply companies; ATS, CRT, Elders, Farmlands, PGG Wrightson and RD1.
Craig Heatley, Founder of SKY TV
One of New Zealand's most prominent entrepreneurs, Craig Heatley is best-known as the founder of Rainbow Corporation and Sky Network Television. Another big project is in the wind but details remain secret. Craig will say only that he's “excited about a new opportunity of worldwide significance”. He has won a reputation for building significant businesses from scratch in what are often challenging environments.
Sky – one of New Zealand's biggest start-ups in the past 25 years – now has a market capitalisation of $2 billion. And when Rainbow merged with Brierley Investments in 1987, not long before the sharemarket crash, it was valued at $600 million and employed more than 7,000 people. Unlike most of his contemporaries, when the disaster hit the world's sharemarkets, Craig had no debt and “significant cash reserves”.
It's a far cry from his early entrepreneurial efforts –- trading marbles at school more than 50 years ago. He bought his first investment property at 15 and, in 1979, set up the first Lilliputt mini golf site in Taupo with a business partner and with only $3000 capital. This was the business that morphed into Rainbow. Sky, he says, could not have happened without the success of Rainbow. Today it employs almost 1000 people and is a household brand. Craig sold a 50% stake in Sky in 1991 to four large US public companies – Bell Atlantic, Ameritech, TCI and Time Warner – for $NZ108 million. He retains a small shareholding in the company. Other brands associated with Craig are Progressive Enterprises, Foodtown and the Three Guys supermarket chain, Independent News Ltd (INL), Kathmandu, Hirepool, Woosh Wireless and Masport. He also has investments in Pebble Beach Resort on the Monterey Peninsula in California, quarries in Australia, and land and buildings in China. In Craig's view, the entrepreneurial spirit shows itself early in life.
“It's all about seeing an opportunity, a niche, a gap in the market, and then delivering.” Entrepreneurs need perseverance, commitment, honesty and flexibility, he says, but the greatest prerequisite is courage.
Dr Sam Hazledine, MedRecruit
Headstrong is a word that could best describe Sam Hazledine, the creator of MedRecruit which, over the past three years, has featured in the Deloitte Fast 50 companies on the move.
Like his creation, Sam is also very fast - from graduating from Otago Medical School in 2003, to convincingly winning the New Zealand Extreme Ski Championships by skiing the most dangerous lines and dropping a 90 foot cliff thereby qualifying for the World Tour.
A life-threatening head injury (he was in a coma for two days) almost put an end to everything. Despite nay sayers predicting otherwise he returned to medical school, and the slopes winning the New Zealand national free ski title.
When Sam started work as a junior doctor he saw that the medical system was not adapting to a new generation of doctors entering into medicine. An alarming 25% of medical graduates were leaving New Zealand within three years of graduation.
After one-and-a-half years working in the hospital system as a salaried doctor Sam choose to become a medical contractor. He dealt with the big medical recruitment agencies and found their services lacking. All the agencies paid lip service to lifestyle, but none could actually deliver.
In a Eureka moment Sam saw that a better way had to exist. With no history in business Sam stopped working as a doctor, invested all his savings and incorporated MedRecruit in August 2006. He turned the tables on the traditional client focussed models - which met with industry disapproval an even some threats - and instead created a doctor-centric agency that had an objective way of matching doctors to work that matched their lifestyle, career and financial goals.
With that in mind Sam and his then girlfriend (now wife) Claire did a road trip around New Zealand and down the East Coast of Australia visiting all the hospitals and convincing them to work with MedRecruit based really on nothing more than the promise of great things to come. Sam utilised his own networks to initially reach the doctors.
An innate understanding of the market, a clear picture of how doctors ‘worked’, savvy brand initiatives and his own in-built tenacity, turned MedRecruit from a great idea to becoming the largest medical recruitment agency in New Zealand in 2011.
Given his original field work he also had Australia on the radar. In early 2009 Sam saw that the New Zealand market might start to tighten up because of the fiscal pressures the hospitals were facing. As a result Sam initiated a direct marketing strategy in Australia in June of that year. At this point Australia was only 3% of MedRecruit’s business, but with this strategic entry into Australia by June 2010 Australia constituted 67% of MedRecruit’s business.
Kat Gee, Kagi
At age eight the signs were there that Kat Gee had the perfect DNA for developing what is today New Zealand’s leading designer jewellery brand specialising in versatile solutions.
The fact she was born and bred in what she calls a ‘perfect entrepreneurial hothouse’ (her father was the driving force behind some of the country’s largest garaging companies) helped, but selling Fimo pendants at school to playing dress up in her Grandmother’s bead drawers indicated a career in the business of design seemed inevitable. The Mikimoto pearls her Grandmother hid in her undergarments as a POW in WWII Indonesia still hold a significant place in her mind.
Her academic and leadership qualities indicated that Kat had both a natural drive as well as intellect to be able to develop anything she put her mind to. She became both Head Girl and Dux at the prestigious Rangi Ruru Girls School in Christchurch. Following 1st Class Honours at Massey University in Wellington, she was awarded the title of NZ Design Ambassador which took her to centres of design excellence around the world
Despite these advantages and achievements the road to having her Kagi line wholesales through over 160 outlets Australasia wide was not without some hitches.
Starting a business at age 24 in an industry that she found she knew little about—and moreover one with very strong links to tradition and an ‘old boys club’ style of operation—created a baptism by fire initiation that Kat had to contend with. In the first 6 weeks alone she lost 6kg and hardly slept as she sat on hotel beds in foreign countries trying to create designs that would be her future. Her steely resolve ensured that her venture would succeed at all costs. As she remembers from that time: “how do you know you’re swimming unless you’re in deep water?”
Market leadership, triple digit grown and the relentless pursuit of ‘super normal’ profits have placed Kagi on the radar as one of the country’s fastest growing companies. Kat credits a true customer centric approach as one of the contributors to her success. Early on she realised that, even though she operated as a wholesaler, end customer satisfaction was essential. As she discovered happy customers creates happy retailers which, in turn, keeps Kagi smiling.
She has also revamped the traditional 80:20 to being 80:60 for her company with 80% of sales coming from 60% of her lines. In other words, all lines need to perform, none sit dormant on shelves, and heavy discounting isn’t an option. Kat achieves this by creating hundreds of possible designs for consideration than ruthlessly crafting this down to 150 lines that go into each collection. Her concept of ‘make what you sell, not sell what you make’ is a key operating tenet.
Chris Dobbs, Working Style
Descriptions of business high flyers and people of achievement usually deal in the hyperbole, yet in the case of Chris Dobbs...and in his own words...he is a very ordinary chap. Didn’t excel at school or sport and was just another New Zealand country boy growing up in rural Masterton. Yet beneath this bland exterior burned a desire to be someone, make money and use an innate creativity to develop something extraordinary.
One of New Zealand’s iconic fashion brands Working Style is the result. Chris began the business with the aid of his mother who helped to knock up a few good shirts which he hawked door to door on the ‘mean’ streets of Auckland and Wellington. It was literally a case of doing the hard yards which at times made him want to give it all up. But having started something that had, he thought, the potential to succeed he continued with what he describes as a period of five years where the woods couldn’t be separated from the trees.
Bringing two partners on board early on in his journey in the form of brother Tim and friend Andrew Cole signalled a period when Working Style started to work. The growth came at a time when the New Zealand male was only just waking up to the idea that a stylish wardrobe might pay dividend. The high quality options that were available were either limited or prohibitively expensive.
Chris and his partners saw the opportunity to create lines using exquisite fabrics (mainly Italian) but then creating clothes that had uniqueness and personalities of their own. Kissing buttons, cloth tongues, pick stitching and very ‘out there’ and colourful linings were some of the Working Style touches that remain to this day.
Chris describes the typical Working Style dedicated follower of fashion as ‘quiet, unaffected achievers’. “Our people are those who just get on with it but who enjoy the odd reflective moment by indulging themselves with the finest clothes; something even their father might have appreciated.”
The brand launched from a Parnell, Auckland site that is still very much in business. With 7 stores in all, including a new concept store in Christchurch that replaced the one destroyed in the earthquake, the brand and business is working in style.
Congratulations to all our Category Winners