Case study: Responding to need

Case study: Responding to need
When an industry insider saw a need for better sales education, AUT listened. Within a year of the first idea being mooted, AUT launched New Zealand’s (and possibly Australasia’s) first sales degree

When an industry insider saw a need for better sales education, AUT listened. Within a year of the first idea being mooted, AUT launched New Zealand’s (and possibly Australasia’s) first sales degree.

Universities have business degrees in everything: marketing, design, accounting – heck, even in business.

All except sales, which made Mark Porath hopping mad. The head of Porath Executive Search and long-time corporate executive knows the importance of sales first-hand, having led sales teams for the last 30-odd years. So why wasn’t it being studied?

“We tend to produce no end of marketing, accounting, legal and other derivatives of business- focused qualifications – but nothing in sales. Why?”

Thanks to AUT, Porath’s “itch” was eventually scratched when it launched New Zealand’s first sales degree in 2007. The new degree is a good example of how persistence from a motivated executive can get things done – and how AUT can listen and respond to industry.

The journey begins at an AUT-sponsored Trans Tasman Business Circle lunch in Sydney in 2006. Porath sat next to vice chancellor Derek McCormack and pointed out the gap in sales degrees. McCormack, ever the pragmatist, encouraged Porath to develop a rationale and submit it to AUT.

Porath discovered a number of degree programmes in the the United States, but nothing similar down under. Porath submitted a paper to AUT, and then ‘drafted’ in allies in the form of chief executives from Vodafone, ANZ, AMP and NZ Post. They all agreed to form an active Advisory Board to persuade AUT to offer a degree major in Sales. “This was a radical and aggressive approach to tackling an obvious deficiency in the provision of practical tertiary education—and to its credit AUT listened to these corporates, absorbed the messages, and moved to implement it”.

The process, he said, took over 12 months—not because of obstacles at AUT but from involving all New Zealand universities in approving a new qualification major, and confirming the credibility of the proposed offering.

AUT’s Sales major in its Business degree was launched in 2007 and the first graduates came into the commercial world in 2009.

“The irony was that even one of the Australian universities acknowledged that they didn’t offer this type of degree major and, as I understand it, have subsequently embarked on developing one.”

Next steps
With one itch scratched, Porath has another one that he plans to pursue: providing a disciplined and empirically-based approach to Corporate Governance through AUT. “It surely can no longer be the sole domain of the Institute of Directors to promote requisite standards and competencies. As far as I’m aware, there are only two people in New Zealand with MPhil qualifications in formal governance, and both are from Cambridge University.

There are plenty of aspirants to the role of director in New Zealand but many don’t really understand the points of distinction and delineation between management and governance. Again, AUT has answered the call in developing a framework for a suitable curriculum.”

As well as his own areas of focus, as chair of AUT’s Advisory Board to the Dean of the Business and Law Faculty, Mark is in a position to further influence, suggest, nurture, and contribute to the quality of education. This Advisory Board, he says, works very much like a ‘think tank’ with representatives from the banking, retail, industrial and professional services sectors all providing a balance of viewpoint and perspective.

“Without question, this group of very dedicated and enthusiastic people from the business sector really enjoys the opportunity to influence and challenge a university such as AUT. We’ve learned to respect AUT’s response to market experience and opinions. AUT certainly has a relatively short history as a university, but the advantage is that it is not shaped or constrained by tradition and ties that might necessarily bind other institutions. AUT’s mindset and approach enable it to be both pragmatic and fleet of foot.

“Part of the Advisory Board function is to provide a litmus test to academia to ensure it is focused on the quality of the Business and Law Faculty’s outcomes, whether these are commercial, cultural or social. We operate constructively, but frank exchanges of views are not discouraged. AUT listens, absorbs and seems to have an appetite to test the water. Without doubt, AUT will continue to grow its reputation for being relevant, adventurous and capable of delivering great outcomes and expectations.”

Do it, but do it differently please
AUT Media is AUT’s publishing arm and the publisher of Idealog magazine. The magazine was launched in 2005 and has won Best Business Magazine at the New Zealand Magazine Awards every year since, becoming the second largest circulating business title after NBR.

Idealog came from a conversation with the then head of research, Professor Ian Shirley,” says Vincent Heeringa, a director of AUT Media. “We were surveying staff about what the university press should be. ‘Look’, he said, ‘you could produce a ton of worthy literature that only academics will read. But why not produce a funky magazine that celebrates Kiwi innovation – that will do a far more powerful job for New Zealand than yet another book.’

“So we hunted around for precedents and found that MIT (the one in Boston, not Manukau) founded the first technology magazine in the world, Technology Review. Well read with high journalistic standards, it provided the perfect platform from which to create Idealog.”

AUT director of public relations and contract manager for AUT Media, Tiffany White, says the magazine is a great fit with AUT’s industry connected approach. “It’s a savvy, smart magazine packed with content that switched-on businesses need to know about. With its focus on ideas and innovation, I see it as New Zealand’s magazine for the changing world – so it makes absolute sense that AUT publishes it.”

Idealog is now not only a magazine but has several websites and blogs and is a regular host to business and creative leaders.

Do you have an itch to scratch? AUT may help. Talk to us about research, education and sourcing talent for your business. Or maybe you want to contribute to an advisory board or fund a scholarship. We’re open for business. Visit for inspiration or contact Terri Wimsett, Advancement Manager on (09) 921-9031 or

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