Managers Abroad: Making it happen

What prompted you to seek work out of NZ?
I worked for Macquarie Bank in Auckland for few years after university and it wasn’t matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ I would head to the London for work/life experience. Why not? I started my first company there (an internet marketing company), then to Shanghai where I helped start another business (sports and entertainment events), then back to London to run part of Doubleclick’s international business before being bought by Google and moving to New York.

What is your current role?
I am co-founder and CEO of groupcommerce.com, an e-commerce technology platform tailored to the needs of media companies. We help them create new revenue streams and new ways to leverage their content in digital world.

What are its main challenges?
Since writing the first product spec on the edge of my kitchen table 18 months ago, my team and I have been ‘making it up as we go’. That’s an exciting process, but the constant uncertainty of ‘how are we going to handle that?’ is constant challenge. We’re now 100 staff in 11 cities, providing complex technology and services solution to large and demanding media companies. Other challenges include:
• Getting important initial commitments from staff, clients and investors by communicating vision and value proposition, for something that doesn’t yet exist. It requires clarity of communication and contagious conviction about the market we target, the business model we address it with, and why we’ll be successful.
• Constantly swapping mindset from thinking creatively about how to solve new problem or create solution; to thinking logically about how to turn that into repeatable process which will enable our business to scale.
• In fast-growing market it feels like your competition never sleeps, so neither can you. Engendering culture that people find fun and fulfilling, while ensuring they maintain intensity and focus is hard balance to maintain, and is critical to winning.
• Also challenging is building culture based on constant honest communication that ensures people feel comfortable challenging one another, which increases the likelihood that we can move fast and good decisions are made.

What are the learnings from all of this?
People are very motivated by clearly communicated vision, supported by logic and facts, in an environment they can openly contribute their ideas to, and which they can see can help impact outcomes.
Although as founding CEO you initially have to consider and touch everything, as you build out your management team you can entrust each function so that you’re eventually in position to actually ‘be CEO’. For me that’s thinking about four questions: Does everybody understand our vision, strategy and what they need to do in pursuit of it? Are we recruiting and retaining the best people? Can I help win/retain/grow the best and biggest customers, and do we have enough cash, and how should we use it? At that point, everything else is someone else’s job and if you find yourself getting dragged into helping do another person’s job, then you probably don’t have the right person doing it.

How do you view New Zealand as country and economic entity?
I love New Zealand, and have deep respect for the qualities of its people: they are naturally capable and have incredible ‘make it happen’ skills and attitude. But in education and society there’s not enough focus on and celebration of the people that create useful things (especially technology). Without those people, there is no economy. And there’s certainly not growing and globally competitive New Zealand economy.
Thinking back on my days at university it seemed that getting job in the service sector as banker, accountant or lawyer was all you needed to get set in life. That’s backwards thinking. There needs to be system and attitude that supports people who create stuff, and structure that systematically helps get proof of the usefulness of those things in front of investors and into international markets. Then little old New Zealand can extract more than its fair share of global markets and be dynamic, growing, relevant economy… as well as great place to live. M

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