Congratulations to the 2015 finalists

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On Wednesday 22 July, 17 of New Zealand's most successful entrepreneurs were announced as the 2015 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Finalists in front of an enthusiastic crowd of fellow entrepreneurs and business executives.

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award's Director, Jon Hooper says, “Successful entrepreneurs have an extraordinary passion, self-belief and drive that keeps them going when others might give up. Because of this, they are able to make a significant contribution to New Zealand’s economy and to the community by creating jobs, driving productivity, fuelling growth and inspiring others. Each of our 2015 finalists has demonstrated outstanding innovation, determination and entrepreneurial spirit.”

You can find out more about each of the finalists below.

Andrew Barnes, Perpetual Guardian
Instincts to be trusted

Growing up in a risk-averse home in north-west England required Andrew Barnes to generate his own entrepreneurial propulsion.

Many people have defining moments in their business and life journey. Andrew Barnes has a plethora of them. Life lessons he has applied across a raft of industries and enterprises.

He has honed these into almost a mantra-like summation of the components that matter—namely trust instinct, use skills, build great teams, and never compromise on integrity.

He floated companies, worked in different industries, held down key jobs in a number of global financial services companies and discovered the potential of technology. A defining moment came when, in a financial management role at a multinational where he ‘unlocked’ the hidden and unrecognised potential that trust companies offer. Yet no one seemed to be harvesting the opportunities.

Returning to England he took over the reins of a company called Bestinvest that he bought, proceeded to achieve record profitability and then sold. He then launched and sold another company. All the while he maintained an international search for the company that would provide the vehicle for unleashing the power of trusts and estate services.

Down on time and money he made what he called the ‘last roll of the dice’ purchase and bought Perpetual Trust Limited—a New Zealand company that was virtually insolvent, had substantial outstanding creditors and had the FMA breathing down its corporate neck.

Despite the dire circumstances Andrew saw what would become Perpetual Guardian as providing the means to capitalise on his ambitions. He identified a great issue facing the developed world that no one was really talking about. The already underway generational wealth transfer from baby boomers—the wealthiest generation in the history of humankind—to their Generation X children.

In an industry dominated by lawyers and what he describes as sleepy old trust companies he had the model for a 21st Century approach that would have mass appeal. Innovations such as on-line wills, a digital information storage vault, a National Will Register and PG Giving initiatives helped the company to spread its wings and risk.

There were some more shaky moments but with a stable business base and money in the bank he has achieved the scale necessary to take Perpetual Guardian offshore.

Benjamin Dellaca, CerebralFix
Game On

Benjamin Dellaca is the brain behind a company redefining the multi-billion dollar world of games and digital experiences.

At age 10, and having never formally learned how to swim, Benjamin Dellaca decided setting a world age group record for the 50 metre breast stroke was the thing to do. He achieved this and represented New Zealand for a decade. Somewhere in the process of clocking up miles in the pool he developed a personal motto.

There are only two outcomes to any course of action you commit to. You either keep going until you achieve your goal or you die. There is absolutely nothing in between.

With such a hard-assed, take-no-prisoners world view it is a tad surprising that Benjamin would dedicate his waking and working hours to creating games. He has turned the pursuit of fun, and happiness, into a sound business proposition.

Benjamin’s entrepreneurial skills started in high school where, in between studies and captaining the national swim team, he sold school leaver’s jerseys. He then joined the family business Postie Plus where he worked his way up from packing mail orders to overseeing the company’s NZ$50 million import operation.

His deep love of gaming resulted in the creation of Battlelink Internet Cafe, Christchurch’s first large-scale internet gaming centre.

When it came time for expansion he could have gone down the tried and true ‘bricks and mortar’ strategy of opening more shops. From his experience managing the Postie Plus import functions Benjamin could clearly see the advantage that a ‘weightless’ product and distribution could offer. No stockholding and the opportunity to create revenue from IP royalties and the like. The riskier digital route seemed the best option.

CerebralFix develops some of the world’s most popular games and digital experiences for organisations— Disney, Dreamworks, Lionsgate and the BBC—recognised as the global elite in their industries.

CerebralFix also develops games under its own brand catering for the entertainment, education and healthcare, gambling and independent games markets.

Keeping ahead of the ‘game’ in gaming design and creation has helped CerebralFix develop a mature product development pipeline. This is the intersection of IP development that focuses on software development, artistic endeavour and the behavioural science need to understand game user behaviour.

Daniel Gudsell, Abodo Wood
Living the wood life

As Daniel Gudsell discovered it’s important to know what you’re walking on.

Rightfully so, consumers have become obsessed with what’s added to our food. In contrast, few understand what additional ‘ingredients’ may have gone in to places where we live and work.

Through Adobo Wood Daniel Gudsell reckons it’s time to start living the ‘good life’ with wood by understanding what products may be harmful. As a result he’s producing beautiful wood for outdoor use that is healthy for people and the planet. He is also going out of his way to educate people about what makes for healthy, and unhealthy, wood treatment procedures.

After graduating with Honours in a Bachelor of Management Studies degree with an international business focus, he cut his teeth in the world of wood as South Pacific territory manager for a building product marketing company.

Four years into the job allowed him to assess market opportunities for alternative product development. He left the security of employment to launch Access Pacific Limited—later to become Adobo Wood—with the aim of dominating the South Pacific timber trade.

A complaint from a customer in American Samoa changed the operation for good. The complainant’s children were admitted to hospital after playing on solvent treated plywood from Daniel’s business. This then saw the United States Environmental Protection Agency impose restrictions on the type of wood products sold to American Samoa.

Unbeknown to Daniel, many of the common preservatives used in New Zealand for wood treatment had been banned, or restricted, in markets like North America, Europe and Japan.

Rather than go with the status quo he and his team decided they should find ways to make their products safer. They created GreenGuard, a non-traditional wood preservative free from heavy metals and arsenic. A series of other innovations culminated in the creation of Vulcan +, a patented timber cladding that is code compliant and completely free from chemical preservatives.

At first competitors went into attack mode trying to discredit these innovations and forcing Daniel to spend thousands on testing and re-testing. These attempts, and also a period of major retrenchment following the global financial crisis, only stiffened his resolve.

He is now poised to take the ‘healthy wood’ concept to larger international markets such as Australia, Europe and SE Asia.

Craig Hickson, Progressive Meats
Meating the Market

Progressive by name and nature, Craig Hickson's fresh, innovative ways have left their mark on the New Zealand agribusiness landscape.

At high school Craig Hickson had the hankering that he would, one day, work for himself. Doing exactly what wasn’t necessarily on the agenda. At Massey University he originally signed up for a science degree. A grant from Hawkes Bay Farmers Meat Company changed his focus to Food Technology as did summer employment at their plant.

After graduation he worked for the New Zealand Meat Producers Board expanding his knowledge and giving him a fuller perspective of the meat industry. To complement his food engineering qualification Craig achieved a BA in Marketing and Economics.

He was now ready to embark on his own projects looking for new business ways in what was then one of the country’s most traditional industries.

Craig saw a meaty export opportunity packing frozen lamb chops and using what was then a new ‘skin pack’ technology. His initial idea was to ‘piggy back’ his production off an already operating, and licensed, facility. He got close to signing deals with a number of parties only to see them to go to what they perceived were greener pastures.

Undaunted Craig made contact with a Hawkes Bay cold store business that was in the middle of its own building project. After discussions the investment syndicate agreed to build him a premise for lease adjacent to the cold store where he could run his operation and achieve synergies with a cold store operation just through the wall.

Colleagues at the Meat Board, and even a financial advisor, cautioned him about the folly of his plans. The roadside, they said, is littered with the carcases of people who have gone before you.

Ignoring the doom and naysayers, Craig and his wife launched Progressive Meats. A team of six processed frozen lamb for export. Through smart financing options, technological innovation, and building strategic relationships along the supply chain, his empire expanded.

Today it is an integrated business involved in venison, lamb and beef farming, procurement, slaughter, processing, value adding and export.

The associated companies for which Craig is a significant shareholder employs over 2000 people. 100% of its production is bound for markets in France, the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Japan, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India and Hong Kong.

Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther, Pushpay
Generosity Driven Success

Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther found business success at the intersection between generosity and innovation.

Rather than pursuing the stability of a traditional corporate job, young entrepreneurs look to create something outside of the norm. While the idea of business ownership may not be especially unique to this generation, what seems to be especially prevalent is a drive for social impact, not just business success and profit.

For Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther, the co-founders of cloud-based, mobile payments company Pushpay, their passion lies at the intersection between generosity and innovation. The idea for their company came from a thought - what if we made the process of giving money as fast and simple as possible? Why can’t giving be as easy as downloading a song from iTunes?

The answer to that question has turned into a Software as a Service (SaaS) company which now facilitates digital contributions for over 1,400 organizations and recently migrated to the NZX Main Board. To date, they’ve raised close to NZ$30m in investment to make this possible.

Chris is no stranger to successful entrepreneurial ventures. At the age of 21 he started a music record venture with a friend, selling the business a few years later. Eliot took a different path to Pushpay. A New Zealand cycling representative, he became a top salesman for HRV, before eventually coming up with the idea for Pushpay in 2011, after seeing how payment complexity had a negative impact on consumer transactions.

Recent reports show Pushpay close to joining the club of SaaS companies that grew from $1m to $10m ACMR in less than five quarters, something defined by industry experts as ‘hyper-growth’. This kind of growth would not have been possible without Chris and Eliot’s purposeful decision to move the majority of the company’s marketing and sales efforts to the US faith-based market. With roughly 150 million people attending church, and over 314,000 churches in need of digital giving solutions, the opportunity to have both social impact and business success is apparent.

Chris and Eliot currently live in the Seattle area with their families and oversee Pushpay’s US growth strategy.

Craig Jones, Corbel Construction
Big, hairy ambitions

There’s a quirky side to Craig Jones that makes him hard to ignore.

If you see the Easter Bunny visiting a building site, are part of a rescue program for Filipino workers, or are involved in a ‘man auction’ fund raising activity, Craig Jones will no doubt be nearby. He’s even used jelly beans as the means to selecting, and building, a leadership team for his company Corbel Construction.

In the process of building up his company to take on the ‘big boys’ of the industry, he’s developed an edgy approach to awareness creation that is getting a lot of people on board. The plan is for Corbel to be among the Top 5 construction companies in New Zealand within the next five years—a ‘big hairy’ ambition he’s committed to achieve.

Craig’s confidence is based on a track record of success in other sectors, and a high level of brain power, that he brings to work. After obtaining a degree in accounting and law from Otago University, he gained a Master of Law from the esteemed London School of Economics.

At 26 he became corporate counsel for Virgin UK and later Unisys New Zealand. He then embarked on an entrepreneurial journey establishing and growing several ICT-based ventures as well as Corbel Construction.

Leaving the security of high level corporate employment for the risky world of self determination and employment demonstrates Craigs’s passion for independent thinking and risk taking. Fortunately his family, and bank manager, had no problems with the move.

Entering the building business came off the back of a property investment group he had established. His current business partner at that time was building the structures. Joining forces made sense and in 2000 Corbel came into being.

Corbel has constructed its success predominantly in the Christchurch market but recently gained its first foothold in Auckland. Being on the scene for the Christchurch rebuild certainly helped to develop Corbel. A targeted customer service-focussed approach and meticulous planning have also helped to nail key projects.

A concentration on key sectors, and developing an expertise and reputation therein, has been Craig’s approach and another Corbel point of difference. The business strategy has been to align construction management and delivery services to key customers operating in the residential, commercial, education, health, community and interior sectors, and overwhelming them with an exceptional customer experience.

Hamish Kennedy, Compac
Get Sorted!

The fruits of Hamish Kennedy’s cool technology are keeping the world of fresh produce on-track

A more modern manifestation of the Biblical concept of separating wheat from chaff is Compac. Created from scratch by inventor and engineer Hamish Kennedy, the business is harvesting global opportunities as the world leader in complete sorting and packing solutions for the fresh produce industry.

Targeting pack houses, Compac delivers end-to-end solutions that improve performance, streamline operations, ensure quality and consistency of produce and reduce labour requirements.

A Masters Degree-qualified electrical engineer, it helped that Hamish grew up on a kiwifruit orchard. He identified that the industry lacked a fruit sorting machine that combined mechanical, electrical and optical technologies. He also perceived there would be benefits in creating something that would also be faster, and more accurate, than conventional fruit grading machines available at the time.

So he decided to build one in the basement of his student flat. Little did he know that a university hobby would evolve into a global business that would revolutionise accurate, high speed sorting machines for the fresh produce market.

Their technologically savvy solutions sort fruit and vegetables according to size, shape, colour and surface defects. Infrared use then further sorts produce based on internal quality and taste. Every well thought out plan or innovation is about ensuring customers get the best possible produce on the shelf, at the best possible price.

Compac is number one in technology worldwide and currently number two in revenues. Headquartered in Auckland and active in over 30 countries, Compac employs over 500 staff and operates from five global hubs, in the USA, China, Spain, Uruguay, and New Zealand.

Since its first exports, Hamish has guided the company to become more focused on offshore markets as vehicles for growth. Depending on the yearly project mix around 90% of Compac’s revenue comes from offshore. This has allowed the company to develop scale, increase R&D capacity, invest in more sales channels and introduce global sourcing and manufacturing to lower costs and improve margins.

Hamish realised early on that diversification into other commodities would be the key to growing his young business. The kiwifruit crisis of the late 1980’s hit hard, but provided the perfect catalyst for the move into apples. Today Compac sort a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, but specialise in apples, citrus, and cherries. Their global market share is 12% and growing.

Paul Lloyd, Apollo Projects
Making a difference

Tell Paul Lloyd that something can’t be done. Chances are he’ll prove you wrong.

Hands up who would take on a project in the poorest and, some would say, the most difficult country in the world to build in? In 2010 an abattoir in Niger, Africa, needed completion. The country depended on it and Paul Lloyd took up the challenge. Despite a coup occurring during the project, Apollo was fully paid, everyone was safe and most importantly to Paul, he made a difference.

Give him a challenge, people say, and he’ll do, and create, extraordinary things.

His company grew out of Long International where Paul was CEO. As manufacturers of a cladding product used in the food industry they were part of the puzzle but not necessarily in the driver’s seat. Paul saw the opportunity to move up the ‘food chain’ to lead projects from start to finish. Paul has since introduced new innovations into the business – notably three world leading brands in the form of Kingspan, Latchways and Natare.

Apollo Projects today operates in the design and build sector of the construction industry with a focus on specific niches including food and beverage processing, storage facilities and aquatic complexes. New ventures are always part of the business but Apollo Projects is the ‘flagship’ of the Group.

Unlike the majority of the construction industry that is driven by lowest price, Apollo is engaged by clients based on its IP and expertise. Apollo has a reputation of securing contracts in areas where clients require a trusted partner with very specialist skills. They bring innovation and partnership to projects and have a culture defined as ‘attitude and action’. They secured the building of the Synlait Infant Formula Plant, they have recently signed an MOU with Fonterra (the first of its kind), completed 6 projects for Wither Hills and 8 for Wairau River Wines and designed and designed and built arguably the most sustainable and “green “ winery in the world – Yealands Estate. This success and the relationships developed with clients has seen the national company prosper.

An avid fitness freak – six half marathons and two half ironman events in the past year – shows Pauls passion for sports as well.

Paul’s wish to make a difference extends to supporting sports and the community. Paul was the President of the North Canterbury Swim Club for 5 years and provides significant support through Apollo for the annual Heart Kids fundraiser in Christchurch. Apollo is also the naming sponsor of the new High Performance NZ training facility in Christchurch which was recently completed by them.

Finally, and one of Pauls finest achievements, has been his involvement as Business Manager and mentor to Olympic Sailing Champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie. Pauls involvement with these two amazing people has changed their lives and allowed them to charge toward Rio without the burden of debt and financial constraints and to ensure they can focus on one thing and one thing only – being the very best they can be.

Chris Pescott, Perceptive Research + Customer Monitor
Uncovering Customer Insights

Want to know what’s going on in the minds of the marketplace? Give Chris Pescott a call.

In the hit movie Taken Liam Neeson laid down the rules clearly and succinctly. “I have a unique set of skills...I will find you and I will kill you.”

Chris Pescott’s promise to clients is not dissimilar...although, in his version, people get to live. He has created a business offering a broad set of skills grounded on discovering and uncovering one thing—human truths. His weapons of choice include qualitative and quantitative research, statistics, brand and marketing strategies, digital and social research specialities.

While the purity of research is fascinating for some, Chris is more interested in delivering business insights and outcomes that drive growth & profitability.

Over 300 clients across New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan have partnered with Chris’s businesses to create insight led growth.

The irony is that this thriving and globally focussed business has been created by someone who admits he’s not naturally good at anything other than having focus, energy and tenacity. When, at age 3, his parents divorced Chris was thrown his first major curve ball. As he grew up his life motto became “if it is to be it’s up to me”.

Chris always struggled as a student, eventually failing his final year of high school. Faced with the daunting reality that he had ruined his chances at success, Chris decided to repeat his final year. It was at the age of 18 that his academic, and leadership, lights began to shine.

Next stop was Massey University where he obtained three degrees including an Honours and a Masters with an A average. Part of his thesis, which later was published in the European Journal of Marketing and the foundation of his business, was a theoretical model for stakeholder management.

Perceptive Research was only three years old when the global financial crisis hit. With a business at the discretionary spend ‘end’ of discretionary budgets—namely marketing—Chris was in for a hammering. He reacted quickly, trimmed his staff to a manageable level, got the bank on board, weathered the storm and continued to innovate with the launch of the now market leading customer experience software — Customer Monitor.

Katie Phillipps, Provincial Childcare Holdings

Building early childcare centres in low socioeconomic areas means Katie Phillipps is making a difference where it’s needed most.

With more than 4,000 licensed early childhood service providers in New Zealand finding green fields of opportunity takes a keen, dedicated and motivated, eye.

Dreams of becoming financially independent by the time she was 30 meant Katie Phillipps was on the lookout for opportunities and challenges from a young age.

She attended a low decile school and left when she was 15, preferring to learn hands-on. By age 17 she was running a very successful telemarketing team exposing her to the power of psychology in making a successful sale.

At age 20 she bought her first house, and had her first of three children. She managed to combine her mothering role with creating a successful internet marketing business as well as renovating the family home.

After several years working abroad the family moved back to New Zealand. Katie and her husband began the hunt for a business that could be run from home to allow valuable time to be spent with their three children. Early childhood education caught their attention.

In 2013 the first centre (of what would evolve into her Provincial Childcare empire) was purchased. Located in a low decile area of Rotorua, Katie bought it from the owner who had run it for 20 years and, in the process, had built up a great reputation.

It quickly became apparent that the teaching team had skills that could be supported far beyond operating a single centre. She could focus on sales, systems, team building and management as well as look for other opportunities that created a winning solution – for families and communities in which they serve, for job stability amongst staff, and to serve the governments target groups.

Growth was steady and well managed. In 2013, she acquired 3 centres. In 2014, a further three and in 2015 three more have joined the group. Katie believes that for as long as it is a winning solution for all parties, growth can continue.

John-Daniel Trask, Raygun (formerly Mindscape)
Cash from crash

Creating mind blowing software is giving Mindscape’s John-Daniel Trask a power surge.

There are bugs out there just waiting to get into your computer and send it crashing to the ground. For software developers—from the small to the almighty like Microsoft, Intel, Box and Nordstrom--Raygun has become the guardian of choice.

Software problems cost the world dearly – estimated at $US300 billion in lost productivity annually. The really horrid ICT experience is when customers experience severe problems before the developers are aware that a software problem even exists. Getting insight into what actually happened from non-technical users makes the job even harder.

Managing these serious software conniptions—and giving companies the confidence to detect and diagnose errors in their applications—is creating an industry worth in the vicinity of $US20 billion and rising. Raygun wants a big piece of the action.

It makes sense that John-Daniel Trask is the person leading the way in crash management. At age nine he wanted to start his own IT company and taught himself how to write software. Products he developed—such as one that erased web site visits that his high school mates eagerly embraced—found markets.

He paid his way through university by setting up a mobile PC repair business. On graduating John-Daniel applied with major software company Intergen and no one else. His logic being if they hired him he’d learn what a ‘real’ business looked like. It not, he had his own capabilities to fall back on.

He got the nod and from the outset made no secret that he wanted to set up his own operation.

By the end of 2006 he had enough start-up capital to fund his life while building a software product business. John-Daniel shoulder tapped two other Intergen employees to join him.

In 2007 Mindscape was launched. One of the founding team left after a year which, at the time, seemed a moment of defeat. That was short lived.

With remaining partner Jeremy Boyd, John-Daniel has guided Mindscape to new heights in successful software solutions and sales. The company has legacy products it continues to support. The power and potential Raygun offers means their fingers are firmly on this trigger and turning it into a full developer/operations platform.

David Trubridge, David Trubridge Design
The Artistic Explorer

Like William his world champion free diver son David Trubridge has no problem taking design to its outer limits.

Chances are David Trubridge set the record for the shortest stint as an employee lasting two weeks. Early on he valued lifestyle and family more than the trappings of status and wealth.

He has carved a reputation as a designer who delights in providing the world with cultural nourishment, telling stories through art and reaching people emotionally and spiritually. Hard to do when you’re punching the clock rather than being a free spirit.

David worked as an employee for all of two weeks but has otherwise forged his own path, valuing lifestyle and family over status or wealth. He embarked on a self-taught learning curve where he mastered craftsmanship and design before setting sail and taking his family on a five-year yachting adventure, living off furniture making as he went.

It was largely a hand-to-mouth existence until, in 2001, one of David’s designs—the Body Raft--achieved international recognition at a design show in Milan. He then ‘majored’ in exporting, accounting, computer design and machinery management.

To meet demand he began to build a team to turn his creative visions into products strongly rooted on environmentally-conscious philosophies. He never lost sight of a business philosophy that says he would rather spend more on sustainable products or processes than increase profit with cheaper goods.

An experiment in geometry and structure—a subject that had interested David since he was a boy—is what has totally transformed the business. Using one single component repeated 60 times resulted in intricate polyhedral structures that, in themselves, are works of art. When David decided to put a light in them he created a niche no one else knew about. He then went about capturing a market that his company went to fill as fast as it could.

The Pompidou Centre in Paris—regarded as one of the foremost art/design museums in the world—purchasing one of his lights for its permanent collection only helped the process. He admits there were some ‘false starts’ but through dogged determination, much travel, and a distributor passionate about his products he’s lit up the world.

Away from design David spends time on his life mission promoting sustainability and planet care. He does this via lectures, his own blog and writing.

Carmen Vicelich, Data Insight
Making data dance

There’s nothing Carmen Vicelich loves more than getting up close and personal with rich information.

An information age truism is that power comes from being able to analyse, then harness, information for innovation and competitive advantage. Proof of this proposition can be found in Carmen Vicelich’s business Data Insight.

She is recognised in the market as a data guru with talent to burn. So much so that she decided to set up her own business in 2012 and had to overcome a number of challenges. For 10 months she was in limbo wondering if Data Insight would ever be able to fly but in the end Carmen prevailed.

As the name of her business implies, her approach is one where information is not so much a ‘raw product’ but a commodity that has value. Her ability to mine the mother lode of actionable information has been an industry game changer. This was the case in her decision to develop an alternative automated property valuation product that both lenders and buyers could use.

At the time the property data market had a single supplier. There were large barriers to entry due to the cost of data from councils, exclusive agreements and the degree of difficulty around having to deal with over 70 separate territorial authorities.

Carmen initially partnered with an Australian company to develop a user friendly solution but they were unable to meet the desired timeframe. She then identified a potential United States candidate who failed to deliver.

Undaunted, she decided to ‘take the plunge’ and developed the online solution herself. She hired a team of experts who were shoulder tapped to come on-board. Christmas leave was cancelled, other aspects of the business—particularly the analytics capability—kicked into high gear to help fund the development team and process. Eventually Valocity was created and set the company on a growth trajectory. To date over 40 of the largest businesses in New Zealand have become Data Insight clients including a number of large global customers in Australia.

John Wikstrom, Magic Memories
When you smile

Through Magic Memories John Wikstrom has built a global business that’s all about making people smile.

Unless you’re offering the holiday from hell, a key by-product of tourism is creating attractions, and moments, that give people joy.

Capturing those moments—as a service to venue operators and especially their customers—is the reason Magic Memories exists.

The business started in 1995 in one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent tourist locations, Queenstown. It was at the famed Gondola attraction that John Wikstrom first discovered the potential to create a business out of selling evidence of people’s happiness right after an amazing experience.

Getting the support of other venues such as Shotover Jet and AJ Hackett Bungy made one thing very clear. High intensity, often once-in-a-lifetime experiences for tourists earn a very high sell through rate of photo, and video, memories at a great rate of return.

Having the ‘service’ foresight to have the finished photographic product ready for purchase once people had come back from their experience made the ‘ca-ching’ of the sales till keep on ringing. And it’s never stopped. By 2014 more than 50 million photographs were taken, and uploaded, and income soared accordingly.

Magic Memories’ goal is to redefine the tourism photography industry. The business offers tailored photography experiences and products to the guests of 100-plus tourism attractions throughout Asia, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. The business is serviced by 90 staff in New Zealand and currently 900 worldwide.

Rather than just photographs the product becomes a personal souvenir of a smile-inducing experience. John works closely with each venue partner to make sure the Magic Memories association also brings smiles to their brand and balance sheets.

A real innovation has been the development of customer-centric content from each venue that could then be digitally enhanced to create visual stories customers couldn’t achieve themselves.

Capturing magical moments at world-famous venues around the world such as Football Club Barcelona and Madame Tussauds has been one measure of success. Identifying the right people to deliver the magical memory has been another.

The business has invested significant time and financial resources to create leaders, and leadership practices, across the organisation. Developing a standardised program—MOJO—to ensure mentorship and training programmes are working, and that the culture is consistent and repeatable, also keeps the magic alive.

Wayne Wright, BestStart
Home away from home

Wayne Wright’s life of (ad)ventures has culminated in a plan to help Kiwi kids.

What do a kiwifruit orchard development business, a US-based retaining wall operation employing 1,000 and a VOIP telecommunications venture going up against ICT ‘heavyweight’ Bell South have in common?

They’re all ventures that Christchurch-born Wayne Wright has had the major hand in building.

Wayne had always had a suspicion of authority and what he calls the ‘whims’ of incompetent people. This attitude, and what he would later discover as an entrepreneurial spirit of perseverance, made the idea of working for someone else untenable.

Becoming a Queen’s Scout where he learned the concepts of collaboration, taking risks and assuming responsibilities, also shaped his approach to life and enterprise. He believes that anything is possible to a brave heart.

All of these attitudes have gone into Wayne’s dream of creating a ‘home away from home’ early childhood education (ECE) experience for New Zealand children. BestStart (formerly Kidicorp) has become the leader in its field.

After their time in the United States, Wayne and wife Chloe returned to New Zealand. A friend asked him to mentor his wife and sister-in-law who were having financial difficulties with their Centre and it was during that experience the vision of sector consolidation developed. Wayne and Chloe both had financial and experiential ‘wealth’ but no childhood education track record. Being a man in a predominantly female world also raised challenges. In the end it took what Wayne says was 15 years of consistent application to convince people the ‘driver’ behind the enterprise was making a difference to children’s lives rather than financial reward.

The business has flourished mainly because BestStart had the vision of taking the ECE sector from a cottage pursuit to a structured and professional industry. Through well managed growth and strategic acquisition the business today operates out of 256 centres, is licensed for 15,720 children and employs over 4,370 staff.

Along the way, Wayne had the largesse to share his vision of excellence, and sector consolidation, with ‘like-minded’ people. He managed a reverse takeover of a publicly-listed ‘shell’ and brought in other shareholders. When share growth and dividends became to the focal point for these new investors Wayne re-privatized the operation to continue with his vision.

A major growth spurt came when, after industry giant ABC failed in Australia, he bought their New Zealand centres which doubled the business size overnight.

Grace Xue, Lighthouse at-home childcare
At home with kids

The search for a quality day-care provider convinced Grace Xue there had to be a better educational option.

Grace Xue was lighting up the ICT money management sector. At age 28 she was recognised as TUANZ Innovator of the Year and won the New Zealand round of the prestigious Technium business planning awards.

While things were great on the work front she faced the anguish of seeing her first born so miserable at the day care centre he attended on a daily basis.

He would cry and beg not to go to his daycare. It reached the point that either Grace, or her husband, would check up on him hourly. Then pick him up early for they couldn’t stomach him being so upset.

The search began for a replacement day care option. This journey of discovery convinced Grace that the early childhood education market could do with a major shakeup.

With a second child about to need care, and with no viable alternatives, she decided to buy her own centre.

The move from the ICT to the childcare sector turned out to be an enormous learning curve. With her husband on board for the career change, they borrowed heavily, sold their own home, and invested everything into the centre. In the process they turned the centre upside-down in more ways than one.

Success came to the point that there was a 10-month paid waiting list. A visiting Ministry of Education inspector was so impressed she suggested she that Grace should begin running a home-based childcare business.

From there the ‘light’ that became Lighthouse at-home childcare came to life. The company was founded in 2012. At the time, the entire home-based industry was in disarray in terms of reputation, standards and financial viability.

In three years the business has grown at the pace that it has (165.21% per annum). Lighthouse employs 59 full time staff, and over 1,000 contractor educators. It is by far the largest New Zealand-owned business of its type in the country.

The use of ICT, the creation of an enormous information resource, innovative training and skill development for its teaching base, support systems for business tasks outside of teaching and a desire to take the model first nationwide and then offshore means Lighthouse will be powerful education beacon in years to come.