Announcing the 2013 Entrepreneur Of The Year category winners

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The category winners for 2014 will be announced on Monday 18 August, keep up to date here.

Read about the 2013 Finalists below.

Five New Zealand entrepreneurs took top position as category winners in the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards for 2013.

The category winners are:

  • Products: Dr John Penno, Synlait Milk
  • Services: Ian Kuperus, Tax Management New Zealand
  • Technology and emerging industries: Rod Drury, Xero
  • Young: Cecilia Robinson, Au Pair Link / My Food Bag
  • Master: Murray Holdaway, Vista Entertainment Solutions

You can find out more about each of these category winners below. 


Dr John Penno, Synlait Milk

The combination of innovative dairy processing company—combining expert farming with state-of-the-art processing—forms the basis of Dr John Penno’s Synlait Milk.

Up against the giants of the industry both here and abroad, the company is quietly steering its way in fruitful markets by producing a range of nutritional and ingredient milk powders. It operates on a model producing small volumes of products with healthy margins.

Operating from a single South Island site with a staff of 150, Synlait’s focus is clearly global with over 50 countries buying their products.  Yet the opportunities in Asia are clearly where the geographical side of their revenue bread is buttered on.  Bolstering this strategy is shareholding support from Japanese trading company Mitsui & Co plus China’s Bright Dairy.

A dairy farmer himself, John began the overall venture by creating Synlait Farming, a 4,500 ha, 15,000 cow corporate dairy farming business in Canterbury.   From there the processing arm of the business took shape.

John admits that taking on the likes of Fonterra—which controls 95% of New Zealand’s raw milk supply—is not for the faint hearted.  Rather than follow the traditional commoditisation model the founders of Synlait instead focussed on looking for export possibilities among value add, nutritional and specialist milk products. 

Further testing their resolve, to establish the Synlait processing plant in 2005 required a NZ$70 million investment. This has been parlayed into current assets of over NZ$280,608 million, including the NZ$100 million state-of-the-art purpose built infant formula dryer.

Away from the milking shed John was named the Inaugural Federated Farmers Agribusiness Person of the Year and also was awarded the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Trust, Emerging Leaders Award.

He also holds a position on the advisory board of the New Zealand China Council aiming to build a strong and resilient relationship with China in both public and private sectors. 


Murray Holdaway, Vista Entertainment Solutions

It used to be that going to the movies was as simple as sitting in a chair and watching the latest offering from Hollywood or other regions.  The lights would go down, the projector would start up and, in between licking an ice cream or munching on some sweets, the show would go on.

As with much of the world how times have changed.  Cinemas are now very big business often involving multi-screen facilities and a whole host of services and offerings that need to be linked.  The ‘behind the scenes’ management system and software that is keeping things together in over 55 countries has been developed by Murray Holdaway.

Aimed at companies that operate one through to hundreds of cinemas, Vista Entertainment’s highly scalable options take care of the variety of profit and service centres that are now part of the movie game.

Cinema ticketing—the function of the box office—is clearly a priority but other applications include centralised management and analytics capabilities; food and beverage point of sale management; web ticketing; rostering; social media applications; scheduling; cash and audit functioning and a whole cast of other high tech machinations.

Vista’s creation is not exactly a ‘rags to riches’ Hollywood blockbuster story but the beginnings started in a low key manner.  Having formed a company called Madison Systems, Murray set up a new ticketing system for Village Cinemas.  The first was installed in the Highland Park cinema on Christmas Eve in 1995.  The next year saw Vista established as a joint venture with Village Cinemas and from there the rest is, as they say, history.  Vista today has headquarters in Auckland with a team of 113 and sales offices in Los Angeles, Shanghai and London employing 47 people.  Vista now looks after 2,500 cinema sites worldwide.  A major coup came in 2013 when Vista secured USA cinema giant (with 600 + sites) Regal Entertainment as a customer. 


Rod Drury, Xero

Visit Rod Drury’s Xero website and the first thing you’ll see is that a love-fest is going on.  The ‘beautiful’ ‘cloud’ accessed accounting software he’s created is adored over 200,000 people worldwide.  The aim is to attract millions more.

From a zero base in 2006 Xero is used in over 100 countries.  With 400 staff globally and with 60% of very sizeable revenues achieved offshore, Xero clearly is keeping the customers satisfied.

When Rod Drury achieved School Certificate he had taken the family’s academic track record to the highest point of achievement to date.  A fascination with Apple computers—and learning how to program via BASIC—soon taught him that you could use your brain—and technology—to build things.  From there he was hooked on computers.

After stints working for a variety of business services and related ventures, Rod began his own journey of company creation that included service business Glazier, Context Connect, AfterMail, Pacific Fibre and involvement with the sale of TradeMe.  He believes that Xero will be his last ‘gig’ as CEO.

All the ideas come from what he says are real experiences where he sees important things that are ‘broken’ and he wants to fix them.  Taking on really big challenges is what excites him most.

 One of the truly massive—some said outrageous—steps he took in building Xero was launching an IPO for the business before it had any revenue.  Most of the capital involved initially was from the sale of AfterMail.  His task was to convince a dubious marketplace that if they backed Xero they’d truly fall in love with this investment.

Through force of will, and after dodging invective arrows from industry peers, Xero listed.  To date the money raised has turned into NZ$2 billion of share holder value with the price set by sophisticated overseas investors allocating funds to a New Zealand-originated global company.


Cecilia Robinson, Au Pair Link / My Food Bag

Cecilia Robinson goes by the ‘nom de pantry’ of Couscous—together with her fellow partners in thyme Lemongrass, Turmeric and Wasabi.

These aren’t cartoon characters but instead represent the collective nicknames of the founders of a business recipe known as My Food Bag.  For in 2012 Cecilia teamed up with Masterchef winner Nadia Lim, business dynamo and investor Theresa Gattung and food retailer Mike Wales to set up My Food Bag.

Literally four hours before going into labour Cecilia submitted the final business plan and the concept ready to bring to life. The venture is fashioned on the premise that healthy and delicious food can also be convenient and exciting.

The business plays to New Zealanders’ particular penchant for sustainability and eating fresh by delivering the best of this country’s seasonal produce—and related recipes—straight to the customer’s door.

My Food Bag comes to the party by sniffing out the best produce, supporting sustainable and free-range farming practices plus being au fait with the journey food makes to get to the nation’s plates.

This is not Cecilia Robinson’s first foray into the fields of entrepreneurship.  Arriving in New Zealand from her native Sweden in 2005 ostensibly on a working holiday away from law studies, she soon parlayed her skills learned as an au pair in the United States to set up what has become Australasia’s largest nanny referral and training company.

Known as Au Pair Link the venture has earned Cecilia various accolades including Her Business Woman of the Year in 2012. Cecilia has also achieved a world first—licensing the company as a Home Based Early Childhood Education Provider.  This enabled the company to provide a world leading curriculum and enable access to early childhood funding.


Ian Kuperus, Tax Management New Zealand

Ian Kuperus’ Robin Hood-esque approach to taxation is so clever it could be criminal.  Using the world’s first tax pooling venture he has created the means—via Tax Management New Zealand--whereby overpayments and underpayments between parties can be traded.

Over the ten years since it was launched, his company has saved over 21,000 clients more than $100 million collectively.  Moreover, the ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ in the equation—the IRD—totally approves of the process.

Even more legend making is having the amazing distinction of getting New Zealand tax law changed and then driving a business from it.

Ian has been tax oriented for most of his professional career.  He began by working with the IRD in 1978 and from there moved to roles leading the tax divisions at the National Bank in 1986 and New Zealand Dairy Board (later Fonterra) in 1988.

The genesis of the tax pooling gold mine came in 1988 when the then Labour Government introduced the Use of Money (UOM) concept.  Ian spotted how businesses could trade their tax positions and take advantage of interest rate differentials.

Still at the National Bank, he got his employer’s blessings and promoted the concept to the IRD and the then Minister of Revenue, Hon Trevor de Cleene. Both parties were unconvinced by how this pooling might work.  This could have drowned the idea but Ian figured his time would come.

Having by then moved to the Dairy Board he gave up the security of a prominent role, leading the tax division at New Zealand’s largest and most international business, to launch his concept.  

Investing substantial time and his own funds, the trick was to convince large corporates to pay their income tax through a corporate trustee, rather than directly to IRD.  Without liquidity in the pool, the concept would flounder.  

Given that this was a legitimate way to avoid paying the ‘hated’ UOM to IRD, the concept, and the company, soon flourished.

Congratulations to all our Category Winners. Read the press release .