Owen Glenn: Use science, technology to be innovative

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Businessman Owen Glenn says we need to be a trading force around the world. Photo / Richard Robinson
Businessman Owen Glenn says we need to be a trading force around the world. Photo / Richard Robinson

In the second of a series leading up to the election, Owen Glenn says exporters' form matters even more than the All Blacks'.

Every four years, rugby puts New Zealand on the world stage. Our exporters do the same every day.

Unlike the All Blacks, when exporters aren't playing to their full potential, the whole country loses.

With two out of three jobs dependent on it and $4 of every $10 our economy produces generated by it, exporting matters.

It's worth asking then: "What could we be doing to get us to the top of our game?"

My score card would say "tries hard but has incredible potential to do better". Better is being a highly successful small country and trading force around the world.

New Zealand's total focus must be on exponential growth. The ICE Ideas conference at the University of Auckland Business School suggested a target of 3000 internationally competitive companies by 2020. The types of enterprises we need to add are those that play to our strengths. The good news is these are many and varied - we just have to get better.

Processed products from agriculture, horticulture, fishing or forestry industries remain our strong suit but we need to use science and technology to continue to innovate. Companies like Fonterra, Zespri and Comvita show our excellence in commodity value-adding. For that reason science journalist Julian Cribb is on the mark when he says New Zealand has the potential to "become the Silicon Valley of agricultural knowledge".

Manufactured and IT-based products are also strong suits, particularly those based on innovative products, systems and processes. Compac, Rakon, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Navman and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare are leaders. Others like Xero, Banklink, Lanza Tech, PowerbyProxi and Digital Veneer show our talent pool is far from empty and we can be a "Silicon Valley" in a more conventional sense.

Weightless exports - such as tourism, education, personal, cultural and recreational services; architectural, engineering and other technical services - are also where we excel.

We should look to places such as Finland, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea, that have established themselves as centres of innovation, that are adept at commercialising research and innovation, and bringing new products to market.

Our Government should set the agenda with opportunities for the private sector and tertiary institutions to contribute. A case in point is the Global Executive Leadership Programme. Developed by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in conjunction with the University of Auckland Business School, the ICEHOUSE and the Thunderbird School of Global Management in the US, its purpose is to assist directors, CEOs, senior executives and business owners who are committed to leading their organisations to a strong international position.

The Government has two crucial roles to play. One is to level the trading playing fields. The China/New Zealand Free Trade Agreement shows it's worth the effort. In year one we exported $3.5 billion in value, compared to a 2004-2006 average of $363 million. China is now our second-largest trading partner and the growth in two-way trade exceeded the average annual growth rate of all major trading partners.

The India/New Zealand FTA and work under way with the US will provide opportunities in other major markets. To capitalise we also must ensure our logistics are highly efficient.

The second is leadership and co-ordination - through New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Our front row needs "street fighting local knowledge capabilities" as well as diplomacy.

In that regard Peter Chrisp's appointment as CEO bodes well. In the end it will come down to inspiring New Zealanders to think and act globally.

Owen Glenn is a Kiwi businessman and philanthropist and an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

- NZ Herald

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