Owen Glenn: Lessons in success would help our students

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Owen Glenn says entrepreneurs can inspire younger people. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Owen Glenn says entrepreneurs can inspire younger people. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Better management training is crucial, writes Owen Glenn in the third part of a series leading up to the election.

The last thing I ever thought I'd be called was an entrepreneur. It wasn't until 1991 when I was awarded an Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Southern California that the word seemed relevant.

Up until then I would have called myself a business person who absolutely loved the thrill of the chase, savoured doing the hard-yards and triumphed in closing the deal.

Labels aside, New Zealand desperately needs people with the skillsets, ideas and passion to allow us to profitably connect with the world. We need people with entrepreneurial and management skills to grow existing enterprises and new start-ups into global markets.

Support for entrepreneurial ventures in New Zealand is improving with better access to venture capital and mentoring networks.

The first seed needs to be planted in our schools. With the support of entrepreneur Tony Falkenstein the students at Onehunga High Business School get an early lesson about business leadership, enterprise and risk taking. We need more of this.

In our universities and institutes of technology we need to bridge the gap between science, technology and business by ensuring graduates are business informed.

Fady Mishriki, the young chief executive of PowerbyProxi whose start-up is commercialising inductive power technology developed at the University of Auckland, is on target.

At the ICE Ideas conference his message was about changing young Kiwis' aspirations - dream not just about going on the big OE, but also dream about building a big global business.

We need a "pollination" process where entrepreneurs interact with younger aspirants so they can learn from these successes, as well as from those that fail.

The stories of entrepreneurial scientists such as Colin Green, Paul Callaghan and Garth Smith and entrepreneurs such as Diane Foreman, Jeremy Moon, Derek Handley, Julie Christie, Sir Richard Taylor, Rod Drury and Greg Cross should become compulsory reading.

However, if research and development (R&D), filed patents and high-growth enterprises are any indication of our state of entrepreneurship, the picture is mixed.

Government reports show we spend less as a country on R&D and file fewer patents than comparator countries in the OECD. More disturbing is that the proportion of high-growth enterprises in New Zealand declined over the 2004-2009 period.

The key to reversing these trends is creative, skilled and experienced scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs and managers who can capitalise on research findings, innovations and ideas developed either in New Zealand, or brought from overseas.

We must get serious about improving and supporting management training and development to keep pace with the real world. The three summers I spent as part of the Harvard Business School's Owner/President Programme completely changed my perception and understanding of my own business and how I should think about it.

Skilled managers add to productivity and profitability by creating an environment in which innovation and skill development can flourish. Relatively small improvements in management capabilities can often do more to raise business performance than injections of capital.

In the manufacturing sector, out of 14 OECD countries New Zealand ranks number 10 on the quality of our management practices. We fall down most in people management - namely attracting, developing and retaining talent.

Maybe this is one reason why Mishriki is the only one of the top 20 of his graduating class who still lives here. This is something for our politicians, policy makers and business people to think long and hard about.

If we are to catch up with Australia economically we must:

* Invest more in R&D.

* Nurture an entrepreneurial mindset in our young people.

* Attract talent to New Zealand from around the world.

All are critical to New Zealand's future prosperity, as is the need to focus on New Zealand's strengths in global markets, which I will discuss in my next piece.

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

- NZ Herald

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