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Innovation Heroes: Peter Beck

Scott Houston, David Woods, Peter Beck and Frances Valintine, will share their tales of the highs and lows of building businesses, and advocating for innovation.

Today, we meet Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, which won the Innovation in Design and Engineering award at the NZ Innovators Awards 2014.


Innovation Heroes 2015 – Peter Beck, Rocket Lab Ltd from NZ Innovation Council on Vimeo.

What traits do you think make somebody innovative?

To be innovative, I think that covers a really wide spectrum because there’s innovation in just about anything you could imagine.

I think whether it’s just going out to your newspaper and getting it a different way is innovative versus reshaping the whole industry. It’s just a part of life.

I think probably what makes a person more innovative than another person is creativity. Some people are really creative, and some people are not necessarily that creative.

What is one major challenge you have faced?

When I first started Rocket Lab and I’d meet a technical problem, I would get so stressed out and I just wouldn’t want to sleep. I’d just work all night and try and solve that problem. Try and resolve it. Get really, really worried and really stressed out about it.

These days I worry less about technical problems because I know if it’s engineering, we can solve it. There’s been so many times we’ve hit a brick wall where physics seem to be against you, that we always find a way.

What is your driving purpose?

Really, space has always interested me, but the bigger thing is doing something with your life that has a big impact on everybody else. Everybody that works at Rocket Lab is excited about what we’re doing, but really, the bigger picture stuff is what gets everybody there early in the morning and late at night – commercialising space.

What and who have been the biggest influencers on you becoming innovative?

I was definitely born in an environment with very innovative thinkers. I think there is some fundamental chemistry in there that determines how creative or innovative somebody is.

I surrounded myself with people I guess that were like-minded. We built go-carts and model aircraft and all those sorts of things really, really early on.

My father was a director for the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and my mother was a teacher, but my father is a pretty innovative guy himself. When he was still a teenager he built a giant telescope which ultimately ended up in the Southland Observatory.

What are the key ingredients that got you to where you are today?

You believe in your innovation to the point where there’s nothing else. If you ask me the current affairs of the world, I could barely tell you. The last time I saw television was a long time ago and unless it’s related to a rocket it’s just wing mirrors.

How important do you think is innovation to New Zealand compared to the rest of the world?

Innovation for New Zealand is New Zealand’s key to success. I think without innovation, New Zealand is screwed.

New Zealanders are some of the best innovators in the world. I was hosting an overseas

visitor who said to me in the lift, “What is it with New Zealand? All this crazy stuff’s happening down in New Zealand.”

I think New Zealanders really are good innovators, but what I think New Zealanders are really poor at, is commercialising their innovation. That’s where we fail.


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