'What could go right?' The question every business should be asking

'What could go right?' The question every business should be asking

Massey University and the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ) may have been the co-hosts of this week’s World Conference of the International Council of Social Business, but host city Wellington definitely stole its share of the limelight.

Katia Richomme-Huet and Professor Thomas Cooney

Katia Richomme-Huet of France's Euromed Management and the president of the International Council for Small Business, Professor Thomas Cooney, of the Dublin Institute of Technology (pictured at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington)

Wellington City Council took the opportunity to re-stage the use of a ‘speed dating’ model it used last year to showcase around 70 innovative businesses to government ministers, MPs, and heads of departments. This week’s repeat event was tagged as BIG II – with BIG standing for Businesses – Innovation – Growth.

Secondly, Grow Wellington took to the stage for a panel session that supported the conference theme of Leading from the Edge, with five local heroes presenting in person (Mario Wynands of Sidhe, Richard Shirtcliffe of Phil & Teds, David Pimblott of NorthSouth GIS Group, hotelier/ex-councillor Chris Parkin and OBO's Simon Barnett) and Sir Richard Taylor chiming in by way of a pre-recorded video clip.

A common theme to the stories shared by the panel was that they had all spent “a lot of time on planes” to get their export-dependent businesses off the ground and that all of their businesses were in some way or other design-led.

Simon Barnett of OBO, the maestros of hockey gear, put his success down to a lexicon of counter-intuitive ‘personal’ attributes:

Number one – being small minded, as in focusing on the actual or optimal size of your global market.

Number two – being a minimalist in letting things grow as big as they can be without overestimating how big that might be.

Number three – being naïve as a route to trying anything.

Number four – being a “tight arse”; keeping cost structures low, and keeping Ernest Rutherford’s famous maxim in mind, that the absence of money is a great imperative to apply your best thinking to the situation at hand. 

Richard Shirtcliffe, of Phil & Teds, was a cheerleader for Wellington and SMEs, talking of the former’s long-lost historic roots as a “trading post” and the latter’s ability to super-charge a city’s fortunes out of proportion to their number.  The more SMEs, the more growth.

Shirtcliffe’s golden piece of advice to the audience of educators, researchers, practitioners and policy makers who travelled to Wellington from 40 plus countries was that a good daily philosophy for any small business isn’t the question “What if it goes wrong!?” but its opposite: “What if it goes right!!?”

Responding to curiosity from the audience about the support mechanisms in place for New Zealand companies to succeed, there was some discussion about the pluses and minuses of engaging with academia. Mario Wynands, of Sidhe, made the point that lead times at traditional universities typically bear no resemblance to industry needs.  “If we have a problem today, we need an answer now”. 

Barnett agreed: “I don’t like to say it, but universities aren’t always easy to engage with … they can be slow, too theoretical and laborious”.

NZTE was praised to the high heavens by Shirtcliffe as a “real boon for New Zealand”.  Another of the businesses to watch, NorthSouth GIS Group Ltd, was represented by David Pimblott.  Conversely he expressed some doubts that the significant and successful early support his company had received from NZTE was still available. “With that government support we achieved a threshold needed to thrive, but I’m not sure the same supports are in place today.”

This was the 57th World Conference of the ICSB but, by all accounts, the first to be held in New Zealand and the first to include a set of presentations under the heading of Indigenous Entrepreneurship, with presenters from the Ngai Tahu Social Development Unit, AUT, University of Auckland Business School, Waikato-Tainui College, Massey University, CPIT and University of Otago.

More than 150 paper abstracts were orally presented across themes as diverse as the psychology of entrepreneurs and small business cooperation through to family businesses and new venture creation.

Of the premiere prizes awarded at the end of the conference the prize for best paper on Women and Entrepreneurship went to Kate Lewis of Massey University. Her imaginatively titled paper, Young, female and entrepreneur: A tale of sense and sensibility, focused on the relative ‘heart and soul’ imbued into business by women compared to men.

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