Ten* After Ten: Jackie Smith on the parlous state of women in business, and the rise of the social entrepreneur

We ask Idealog readers to reflect on what’s changed in the last 10 years. And what still needs to.

Have you been surprised by what has (or has not) changed in the last 10 years?

While I am keen on telling the rest of the world that New Zealand is a very egalitarian country (and in the past it has been a world leader in this) I believe that very little progress has been made in bringing greater diversity to New Zealand businesses over the last 10 years. New Zealand companies (and the country) are still largely run by white males.

International evidence clearly demonstrates the value that women add to business, yet we still have far too many women restricted to roles that have less influence and less remuneration. I don’t believe it is women that need to change, but business needs to create an environment that is flexible enough to cater for a diverse range of people; different genders, cultures and backgrounds.  There are great untapped resources of creativity and intellect that are not being given an opportunity to develop and shine because they don’t fit the conventional mould. We need to find them and invest in them.

Where are we headed over the next 10 years?

There is a new flavour developing in business. Business with a heart. In the past business has been about making as much money as possible by whatever means is possible. While that is still true for many companies, there is a new generation of entrepreneurs that are setting out to make the world a better place through business. Ethics and transparency play a bigger part. Many of the world’s big problems will be solved through businesses created by these young and intrepid entrepreneurs.

At the same time we will see a tidal wave of change in arenas that are dominated by information. Data will change everything, even in the service sector that I operate in. No business can afford to think they will be immune. The future will be driven by businesses that are focused on handing over the control to the customer. Think how much we prefer to check out our own groceries, or check ourselves in to the flight. As consumers we want efficiency, safety and control of our own destiny.

What keeps you awake at night when you think about New Zealand’s place in the creative economy?

I am concerned about how unprepared we are as individuals, businesses and as a country, to manage the growing pace of change. I doubt any one country or government has a good enough grip on the enormity of the wave of change that we will see in the next decade and beyond. There are technological revolutions happening in almost every industry and sphere of life. Most organisations consistently underestimate the potential speed and impact of this.

However we have an opportunity in New Zealand to manage better than most as we are a small country and can be agile. As a nation we must be prepared to look forward, rather than at what we have invested in the past. Technology is making many past investments redundant. A clear example of that being “The Knowledge” of the London taxi driver. The unique value of more than 20,000 knowledgeable cabbies wiped out in just a few short years by Google Maps.  

However you can’t hold back a wave, you can only go with it. We must look forward and be relentless about finding better ways to operate Government bodies and local authorities, which also need new rules and new ways of doing things.

A doctor friend of mine is fond of saying “50% of what I know is true and 50% is not. The problem is that I don’t know which is which and only time will tell.” This helps me keep searching, even if I think I know the answer. In the last few years I have spent a large amount of time travelling overseas which has only served to increase my pride in NZ. We are a country that gets a lot of things right, but that shouldn’t prevent us from keeping an open mind and relentlessly seeking a better way.

 

Jackie Smith is co-founder of the Caci chain of beauty clinics.

*Dodgy counting alert: Initially, we actually we asked 10 people to answer these questions as part of a magazine cover feature to celebrate our tenth birthday. But we liked those 10 answers so much, we kept asking other people. Stay tuned for more over the summer months.