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NZ Business Hall of Fame recognises the past and future of entrepreneurship

The New Zealand Business Hall of Fame held its annual black tie event in Auckland last week which attracted 500 people to celebrate the lives of 7 business people who have contributed to New Zealand over their careers.  The event began almost 30 years ago and has inducted more than 200 people since it first started.  Previous laureates have included Graeme Hart, the late Sir Eion Edgar, Dame Trelise Cooper, Pania Tyson-Nathan, Sir William Gallagher and Sir Chris Mace.

The event was founded and is still run by Young Enterprise, as a way to show the thousands of high school students they support what a career as an entrepreneur might become.  Young Enterprise, or YES, is working this year with 4,700 high school students across high schools all over the country.   A recent report by Impact Lab showed that every $1 put towards their work becomes an impressive $5.80 of social return.  The event gives high school students role models to aspire to and that focus was evident throughout the evening as students were present and involved. 

The laureates were inducted by the patron of YES who is the Governor General, The Rt Hon Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO.  The seven chosen were Theresa Gattung, Sir Paul Adams, Kingi Smiler, Wally Stone, Kelly Tarlton (posthumously), Ted Manson and Michael Barnett. 

In her speech the Governor General noted, “All of tonight’s recipients are profoundly inspiring – not only for what they have achieved in their respective business careers, but because they remained true to their values, been brave enough to risk failure, and set the highest standards for themselves and those around them.”

One key theme that emerged from the night was intergenerational legacy.  This was apparent when each of the 7 laureates was introduced by a high school student involved in YES, rather than a dignitary.  It showed the connection between the future and the present for entrepreneurship.  The Governor General commented, “It’s exciting to imagine that some of the young people in this room will become business titans of the future, and join tonight’s laureates in the Business Hall of Fame.”

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The theme that came through during the interviews that each laureate had with the witty David Downs was that many had started from humble beginnings but their own parents had backed them, supported them and opened up opportunities.  Many of the laureates reflected on the fact that a large number of young people do not have the same support today, so they are now trying to get involved in programs and initiatives that open doors for our youth. 

It was also clear that for these entrepreneurs their families had played a key part with many of them now passing on their business initiatives to their own children, continuing an intergenerational legacy.  Their focus had often shifted from the businesses that they had started to setting up charities or working with other charities as a way to give back.  Itself a charity, Terry Shubkin the CEO has described their journey for seeds podcast in an episode here and they used the event as a launch for the Forever Fund.  That is an endowment fund to provide a permanent investment to ensure the work of YES continues into the future.  

Some of those recognised have been very involved in Māori business, including Wally Stone and his work with the now iconic Whale Watch Kaikoura, as well as Kingi Smiler who was instrumental in setting up Miraka, a milk production plant utilising geothermal energy.  Similar to themes that came out at the recent Boma conference, the intergenerational nature of such businesses was obvious as they have a far bigger vision looking instead in much longer time frames of decades and centuries.  If decision making takes into account generations to come what might that change, and what does a 500 year vision look like, in a context where we reimagine the role of business as a positive force.   

Theresa Gattung.

Recognising Theresa Gattung was another highlight of the evening although as the sole female laureate it showed we still have some work to do to increase women leaders in business.  That is a theme that was highlighted by the Electrify Aotearoa Conference held earlier in the month hosted by the Ministry of Awesome which had hundreds of female founders attending it.  A recent report showed female founders currently receive only a small portion of funding.  Jenny Rudd, co-author of the Gender Investment Gap along with Theresa Gattung said, “For every 100 startups funded with tax payers’ money, 72 are male and 6 are female. We are giving the most funding to the worst-performing group – that just screams opportunity.”

A final highlight of the night was the closing speech from Tom Little, a student at Taradale High School who challenged the room about their perceptions of neurodiversity.  He is the co-founder of a business with other students called Pūkare cards, a Young Enterprise business which has created a product that aims to use Te reo Māori and emotive cards to help youth express themselves and talk about feelings from a young age. 

Tom noted that neurodiverse people face a number of challenges, including lack of diagnosis for neurodiverse people who can contribute through their autism, ADHD or Dyslexia, yet said that they bring many strengths such as creativity and out of the box thinking to offer organisations.  They often try to hide their neurodiversity to try and get jobs and fit in.  He challenged the room to commit to learning about neurodiversity, so organisations can understand how they can be flexible and be willing to support neurodiverse people.  

Leaving the event, you couldn’t help but be inspired by the laureates who had been honoured.  Yet the impression that remained was the memory of the smiles and enthusiasm of the high school students who were welcoming the laureates on stage.  The next generation will have some good guides to follow who are further down the road and have left some footprints showing the way forward.

Steven Moe is an author, podcaster and partner at Parry Field Lawyers, solving legal problems for companies and purpose driven organisations. He hosts Seeds Podcast with more than 340 interviews of inspiring people and wrote the book, ‘Laying Foundations for Reimagining Business’.

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