COVER STORY: World Class Kiwis Talented and Tenacious

Little country in the bottom of the world we may be, but New Zealand, as one World Class New Zealand Award winner puts it, produces “a disproportionate share of talented people” in all spheres of achievement.
While our sporting stars are more visible high fliers, the World Class Leaders Awards, created by KEA NZ with NZ Trade and Enterprise and now in their sixth year, highlight the size and scope of this talent. From high finance and high fashion to those pushing out the frontiers of science and technological innovation, this year’s eight award winners are at the top of their field – even though they often fly under the radar of public awareness.
How did they reach this level of achievement? Are there common Kiwi traits that have contributed to their success? What influence do and can we have on the world stage? And what sort of leadership does the world need to pull it out of its current economic tailspin?
There are some common recipes. Talent has to be paired with tenacity. To get noticed on the world stage, you have to show up. Follow your passion and never stop learning. Build strong teams around you. Draw on your own “Rosetta stone” of strength. All highlight the reality that it’s not what you’re born with but what you do with it that counts.
There is lot to learn from these and other members of the growing pool of “world class” achievers identified by KEA. It’s knowledge that, while always vital, has added cachet in today’s turbulent times. And, as one award winner notes, the value of connections forged through this global network of talented Kiwis can only enhance what is already great national brand: “smart people who get things done”.

NB: Full transcripts of the interviews with winners are available from the Scroll to Print Plus link.


Richard Taylor
Supreme World Class Award

Sponsored by Industrial Research

When Richard Taylor looks back over career that has seen him tread the red carpet at both Oscar and Bafta award-winning ceremonies, what makes him most proud is the people who drive the creative powerhouse that is Weta Workshop.
“At 44 when I reflect on the challenges and the accomplishments around the films and shows we’ve done, it’s actually about appreciating all this has been achieved by like-minded group of young Kiwis working as single unit. That people have felt so motivated to reach that level of achievement and empowering them to get to that place, it’s been really special experience and one I reflect on as being the most enjoyable part of what we’ve done to date.”
Taylor runs company where growth has been almost incidental to the creative challenge offered by the projects it’s tackled and where the required attributes for employees are passion, enthusiasm, tenacity and talent – in that order. Taylor models them all, in spades.
The first two are very evident as he talks about their latest project. Made at Weta Workshop and developed by his new creative IP development company, Pukeko Pictures, TV series for pre-schoolers is about couple of baby aliens who crash land at Wellington zoo and have to figure out where they belong in this world. The Wot Wots has been in production for more than two years and 52 episodes are now destined for markets in the UK and Europe. Taylor’s young daughter is already big fan: “She learned to talk from the show’s speech lessons,” he says.
Tenacity was evident in his own struggle with academic work – he had to put in lot of effort to do as well as he wanted. Fortunately he found niche that played to his practical strengths and creative flair in Wellington Polytech design course. After discovering the New Zealand film industry, he and wife Tania started their own special effects business, met Kiwi film director Peter Jackson and the rest, as they say, is history. Jackson was and still is huge inspiration, says Taylor.
“Peter Jackson lives and breathes the film industry here in Miramar and we get to touch up against that industry every day – it’s an experience nothing short of incredible.”
Post Lord of the Rings, Weta has diversified into publishing, TV shows, merchandising (through the Weta Cave), digital gaming, monumental bronze casting and chain-mail production, as well as developing its own digital games feature films. An expansion driven by Taylor’s own desire to “fill your life with as many exciting and intriguing opportunities as you possibly can”, it also has very practical bent. Service provision is great – but capturing the ongoing benefits of value creation is better, says Taylor.
“Since finishing Lord of the Rings we’ve been very much of the mind that we must pursue creative IP (intellectual property) development in New Zealand. If we want to build creative hub where the spokes can feed out to wheel of opportunity for other elements of the industry within New Zealand, we have to own and benefit from the IP created here.”
There is, he believes, no shortage. New Zealand has tradition for innovative thought – from Richard Pearse and Ernest Rutherford on – mixed with the Ed Hillary attitude of just getting on with it. He’s delighted to see young Kiwi creatives increasingly drawing on their own Pacific culture and notes that artistic creativity is now an established means of making mark on the world.
Describing the Oscars as an “exclamation point” to Weta’s artistic efforts, he says it’s worth noting the same group of people at Weta Workshop succeeded across three distinct disciplines. “Most companies will focus entirely on one craft to achieve that level of recognition. It’s an incredible testament to the Jack-and-Jill-of-all-trades mentality here that the same people were responsible for achieving success in three dramatically diverse areas – make-up, costuming and visual effects. That speaks volumes about New Zealand’s ’can-do’ and innovator technicians.”
He would urge any aspiring Kiwis to “draw with unabashed abandon on your internal passion and those of the people around you”. And he believes today’s leaders need to show the new generation that they can take the world into this millennium with sincerity, honesty and capability born out of thought and care for those they govern.
“A lot of why the world is where it is right now is that limited few with power and control have wielded it with very poor character – and we can’t continue to do that.”


Ray Avery
Biotechnology

Sponsored by Ernst & Young

Asked what sort of leadership the world needs now, Ray Avery quotes Albert Einstein’s “strive not to be success but to be of value”. The man who is founder and chief executive of Medicine Mondiale, charity devoted to improving the health of people in third world countries, has tried both and knows which works for him.
Avery learned early about social equity. Raised in UK orphanage, he was living on London’s streets at the age of 14. Through what he describes as “labyrinth of abuse” he learned the skills he needed to survive – and found refuge in books.
“I hung around libraries until they closed and developed real interest in books and knowledge. One of my keys to survival was reading – anything to get out of the place I was in. That developed imagination which is what you need to be good scientist.”
Picked up in police sweep of the streets he was put into mentoring programme that resulted in him being sent to Wye Education and Research Centre – the “Oxford of learning” for agriculture and started his career in science. Trained as biochemist, he went on to set up series of private analytical testing labs – and fulfil his ambition to make lot of money.
When it didn’t prove to be the

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