Managers Abroad : A different diaspora

Is there anything particularly distinctive about New Zealand’s diaspora? Well actually, yes. For starters, the OECD rates it the highest in skilled competency in the world – at least on per capita basis. Certainly anecdotally, if not statistically, Kiwis that fly the coop punch well above their weight, to mix metaphor, when it comes to filling high flying slots of global influence and enterprise.
Why and how can this be? One of the more ‘philosophical’ members of this illustrious alumni of expats is Brent Hansen who, until he retired in 2006 at the ripe old age, for rocker, of 50 was London-based Music Television’s (MTV) president of international creative and its global editor-in-chief at MTV Europe.
Hansen landed on his gilded perch, like so many migrating Kiwis, more by accident than skilful navigation. But having secured the music industry’s top television slot, he shaped both the job and his approach to it to become MTV’s most ‘iconic individual’. He was the guy who ‘symbolised something beyond the bottom line’ and saw himself, as he once put it, as the philosopher of the company. His long hair and languid, easy charisma no doubt helped.
But Hansen, in town recently for the launch of the Auckland Chapter of Kea, New Zealand’s global network of enterprising expatriates, thinks the international success many Kiwis enjoy goes little deeper than happenstance. He has attributed his personal success to what he calls his ‘New Zealand-ness’, an attitude, management and leadership approach that kept him in his job as shaper of world contemporary music preferences for the thick end of 20 years.
“I have always tried to see things from New Zealand perspective, whatever that is, and to deliver through my own persona,” he says.
Hansen and his wife, former New Zealand television presenter Philippa Dann, still live in London. But they spend increasing dollops of the time building holiday home on Waiheke Island for their teenage son and their daughter who is now studying at Wellington’s Victoria University.
The arts and history graduate originally seemed destined for life in academia. That ended when he found himself, through various part time jobs, producing Television New Zealand’s ‘alternative’ music programme, Radio with Pictures. But then he left town for six-month sabbatical on the other side of the world and the rest, as the cliché reminds us, is history.
Hansen was offered job at the fledgling European arm of the American-owned MTV and simply rose to the opportunities the company’s rapid rise in the European entertainment world presented him. Once on top he perched there for 19 years, longevity of tenure he once ascribed ‘100 percent’ to his Kiwi roots.
Now he has retired from his ‘city job’ and indulges his homing Kiwi instincts by spending more time in comfortable and familiar surroundings. Returning home isn’t always an easy transition however. He found it difficult, for example, to have stimulating conversations with like-minded New Zealanders itching to take their skills and ideas to the global marketplace.

“Then Kea offered way to talk with other Kiwis who wanted to know about the world and its opportunities. It was breath of fresh air to me,” he says.
Hansen thinks Kea’s approach to bringing expats and aspirants together is professional way of making the diaspora work for the good of both the individual and the country. “Kea has treated me with respect, never insisted that I be super-extrovert and party turn. I’m not joiner. I am an individual who enjoys being taken seriously but who maybe has something to offer and wants to share it.”
Hansen may be retired from MTV but he keeps busy. He is on the board of London’s Southbank Centre, which is the largest arts organisation in the United Kingdom. He still does gigs as DJ and is on the board of another small business. But mostly, he likes to travel to New Zealand as often as he can to spend time with his family, friends and other Kiwis who want to join very different diaspora.

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