IN TOUCH: Managers abroad

John Nicol: CEO, Acron Capability Engineering, Ottawa, Canada

What prompted you to seek work out of New Zealand?
While I was peace keeping with the New Zealand Army, I met my now Canadian wife while she was on holiday in Israel. I left the army and moved to Canada after the mission.

Can you provide sketch of your current role?
I am the CEO of company that develops information exchange applications for command and control systems and also specialises in developing and integrating modelling and simulation solutions. It is my responsibility to lead all aspects of the company, from strategy and vision through to arranging leases on our office space. As most self-employed people can attest, the people that start company do everything, so I can’t say that I am in true management position, just one of the guys that has hand in everything and spends lot of hours doing it.

How does it fit into your career path?
Building company from scratch and seeing it move into international markets is very valuable experience. Years of military training, personnel management and leadership opportunities as senior manager at other companies have made this an easier career path transition.

What are its main challenges?
Our main customer is the Canadian government. Working with the Canadian government ministries and agencies is challenging. Imagine the old TV show Gliding On and you have something approximating the speed and efficiency of how things work here. There are certainly lot of bigger and more established companies that have strong presence in our client market.
The other challenge is the lengthy decision cycle. It can take two or three years to get contracts completed from initial contact. Some companies believe that working with the government is easy if they have the right product. But the only products that are being bought quickly are large ticket items supporting the troops in Afghanistan, such as tanks, planes and armoured vehicles. software company just isn’t going to make sales quickly to this type of customer. By just being who we are and focusing on the customer, we are quickly becoming known as force to be reckoned with. It is very exciting.

What are the learnings you will take from it?
It is all about personal relationships and learning to navigate through the bureau-cracy with patience. I am not quite there yet, but results are starting to pay off. Also, obviously we are not tying ourselves just to government clients and are diversifying the application of our technologies into other domains such as the oil and gas industries.

How do you view New Zealand both as country and economic/business entity from where you stand now?
Unfortunately New Zealand doesn’t feature at all. When it does come up in the local media, it is all about tourism and wine which is fine if you are tourism or wine company but hard sell if you are technology company. I have tried looking at the market again and made trip in 2003 to explore specific technology opportunities but, to be honest, it is too much work when we are based in Canada with the massive market opportunity here in North America. New Zealand doesn’t appear to promote itself as anything other than country that has nice scenery.

What sort of ongoing contribution can you/would you like to make to New Zealand’s economic/social welfare?
I would like to look at opportunities to promote the capability of New Zealand technology here in Canada.

• John Nicol is member of KEA, New Zealand’s global talent community – www.keanewzealand.com

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