BOOKCASE : Working on the Edge: A Portrait of Business in Dunedin

Edited by Kerr Inkson, Victoria Browning, Jodyanne Kirkwood • University of Otago Press • RRP $40

As student in Dunedin I can remember the rich smells wafting from its chocolate factory – that could explain the soft centre I have for the city this book represents as being “on the edge” of the world. There is something about the place that can generate lot of affection and loyalty. This shows through in some of the case studies of businesses that choose to operate from the market periphery.
They’re great mix. There’s the traditional with twist. Cadbury’s long-time presence in the city fits in here – its antecedents can be traced back to the 19th century – but it also boasts the only Cadbury World outside the company’s British hometown of Bourneville, which adds to the tourist destinations that abound in and around the city.
There’s also the “gee whizz” stuff – some of it powered by the intellectual grunt afforded by strong university presence and the city’s sizeable “scarfie” population. Biotech-based companies like BLIS Technologies, Botry-Zen, Zenith Technologies, or Ovita thrive where there is capacity for blue skies research and business/scientific networking. The “social glue” in Dunedin where degrees of separation are at minimum also helped to fire IT successes like Animation Research (ARL) whose engaging company motto is “bugger the boxing, pour the concrete anyway”.
ARL is also success story that highlights the paradoxical ability in connected world to both live at the edge and work at the centre, providing high-tech solutions to businesses around the world. The same ability applies to companies like Natural History NZ, which started life as the National Film Unit and has since gained worldwide reputation for its expertise in creating programmes that portray some of the world’s most remote and beautiful places.
One chapter (creative spin?) is devoted to the city’s fashion industry whose high profile representatives include Nom*D, Carlson and Mild Red. There’s also engineering innovation (Fisher & Paykel’s iconic Dishdrawer was invented in Dunedin); cottage-gone-global (Jan McLean’s collectible dolls); and sheer inspiration (Kissing Gate and Middlemarch’s Bachelors’ Ball) – all of which help put Dunedin on both the national and global economic maps.
If I have minor carp about the book, it’s the lack of visuals. Dunedin is beautiful city that deserves photographic representation. More graphics would also have helped transform what is fairly academic tome into something with wider appeal.
That said (and possible Southerner bias aside), it’s an interesting read which emphasises useful point. Being “at the edge” doesn’t preclude businesses from being at the centre of international action or prevent them from being world class. That’s message relevant to all New Zealand businesses.

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