Pursuing Passion

In business, it once travelled plainly, under the humble name of enthusi-
asm. But the predators of advertising and similarly over-hyped industries stole into pew and bedroom alike to exploit its novelty and in no time at all, it became fashionable business fundamental.
Passion, according to conventional wisdom, will take you anywhere, reward your singularity with success, fame and inevitably, riches. Maybe. Take look at the people who come pouring out of offices in cloned black suits and dresses. Passion then begins to sit uneasily with everyday reality. But call it passion, enthusiasm, focus, single – even bloody-mindedness – the quality has worked for many of our business leaders and entrepreneurs.
There’s Murray Thom, who doesn’t wear anything like suit to his office where the wide windows open on to the glittering Waitemata harbour. Thom is the quintessential open-necked Mr Casual, born to the waves, champion yachtie, and the founder of Personalised Plates. Among his other corporate lives he was also 23-year-old managing director of CBS Records.
One night year after he left CBS, he was having coffee at the Regent Hotel with his wife when he heard pianist Carl Doy playing. He told his wife somebody should record the man, then followed up his suggestion by doing it himself. The result was Piano by Candlelight, double platinum in New Zealand.
More importantly, it became the first New Zealand album to sell double gold in the United States, by selling more than 500,000 copies. It was the first of many recording successes for both Doy and Thom Marketing and all of them were born of passion. Here’s what 1997 New Zealand Herald profile once had to say about him: “If Murray Thom’s enthusiasm was any more infectious, the man would have to be permanently quarantined.” Curiously, Thom becomes unusually introspective when we ask him about passion in his business. And the distinction between business and his business is critical. “I’d describe it as the fuel that keeps the motor going… the fire that generates the energy,” he says.
“There’s lot of love in the word passion. It’s used in the sense of relationships isn’t it? So I think there can’t be passion without love. I feel very passionate about the products we sell. I love the products we sell and the albums we make.”
Thom is devoted family man and sees “huge similarity” between creating products and having children. In both cases he conceived them and he says that means he wants them to be sturdy and healthy; it also means he won’t neglect, abandon or adopt them out.
“There are lot of people out there who have not got their hearts in what they are doing. If somebody says they don’t like it, their own feelings might falter. When it comes to my own feelings for my own products, I don’t think they can be shaken because we conceived and created them.
“I think the common thread among passionate people is that they love what they are doing and I think that loving what you do is big part of being successful.” But can passion in business have its downside because it sometimes blinds? Thom concedes the point slowly, but says the truly passionate person in business is not easily damaged. He thinks about it more and it becomes clear that passion sustains him in difficult moments – when for example deal he has worked on for years, fails.
“Passion allows you to continue in the face of adversity. When you are passionate about something you tend to feel tenacious – it’s something you want to do,” he says. And against adversity, passion should also console and encourage. “I think truly passionate people are masters at encouraging themselves,” he says.
Despite his enthusiasms, Thom believes he is “fairly prudent” financially. He doesn’t believe in squandering resources, nor does he see his company as being in high risk area. So passion in business has to be self-limiting or it risks becoming self-mutilating. The high cost of passionate dreaming can end up in arid liquidation and people like Thom and exo-net founder David McKee Wright are aware of the dangers.
McKee Wright began his e-business software company just 18 months ago with handful of staff and an energy which, like Thom’s, seemed hard to contain. Today he has 100 staff and, as he predicted to Management over year ago, has sold his creation to become multi-millionaire at the age of 31. He still retains his role as CEO and finds it easy to define passion in business.
“It’s two things – belief and self-confidence. I think we have done really well in our time because I believed in exo-net. I might have had internal doubts from time to time but I would never have showed them. I had the confidence and it was always ?I can do it, I can do it’ sort of thing.” Like Thom, he also believes that this self encouragement is vital.
“When you are driving business, sometimes it’s ?Oh, what am I doing?’ – everything is coming down on you. You just have to power through with the belief that you know what you are doing and execute it,” he says. McKee Wright says he always believed exo-net would work but he concedes he also picked the right opportunity. Coupled with sustained self-belief is recognition of his energy which needs constant activity and challenge.
“Getting up in the morning has never been problem. Some people can lie in all day – I can’t. Some people love to watch television. I’ve got to get out.” He also acknowledges the downside to this passion and drive. “It happens to me all the time – my expectations are almost always too high. I always want more than can be provided. I want product released by the end of March and it’s physically impossible. Or I want 500 percent growth, quarter on quarter and that’s also impossible. But what you achieve when you aim for the stars is that sometimes you hit the tops of the trees.”
Youth and passion, he muses. They just go together. Not quite. Middle age also fuses both. Take Ray Avery, the technical director of the Fred Hollows Foundation. He’s bio-chemical scientist and in that role runs his own design and build consultancy for pharmaceutical plants so they can win the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) approvals. That’s demanding benchmark and his passion is linked to providing quality to his clients around the world.
But Avery is more than scientist. He’s painter, man whose ready wit conceals his other passion, trying to make medical treatment and medicines more accessible and cheaper to the Third World.
As successful businessman and top executive working for European pharmaceutical companies, Avery had sampled hedonistic life at the top and found it wanting. “It wasn’t quite the nirvana I thought it could be,” he said. He left Douglas Pharmaceuticals in New Zealand and set up his own company Kaizen in 1992.
Not long after, he met Hollows who told him in his blunt manner to stop making money out of sick people and to do something useful with his life. Avery joined the Foundation and was instrumental in establishing the Fred Hollows clinics in Eritrea, Nepal and Vietnam. “I think there are number of routes to get to this passionate state,” he says.
“Some people are born with it – I’m not sure that most are. Mine was much more tortuous route. My route was running out of alternative options. I experimented with life and with the good things in life and I came back to the realisation that people make me passionate. I’m passionate about our possibilities as human race. I get passionate about using the knowledge we have got to invoke change.”
Avery has never forgotten his childhood as an orphan, and the opportunities he later had – but which many of his contemporaries at the orphanage never shared.
“I kind of needed to live on their behalf. I had opportunities which it would have been impossible not to pursue.” Those early days shaped him as loner and an outsider who isn’t afraid to question the way things are done. He admits t

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