David Downs: Chance to say 'good on ya' to innovators

Gallagher Group, led by Sir William Gallagher, is building a name on the global stage.
Gallagher Group, led by Sir William Gallagher, is building a name on the global stage.

David Downs is overseeing NZTE's NZ International Business Awards. He is the convenor of judges and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's general manager for internal partners.

Yet again, the variety and ingenuity of New Zealand business has astounded me.

I've just finished judging the NZ International Business Awards, which celebrate companies which are growing internationally and having a significant impact on our economy.

This year was a bumper crop of entries to choose from, which a panel of expert judges had to whittle down to 24 finalists across a variety of categories.

Reading the entries is inspirational and daunting, at times yielding an involuntary "we do what?" when the judges read about the innovation and success NZ businesses are enjoying on the world stage.

This year is a special one - the 50th anniversary of the awards, and a chance to look back at past winners (remember Crown Lynn and Tonka Toys?) and see how today's businesses have built on their legacies.

It's a chance for us to put aside any tall poppy tendencies, ignore any gloom merchants telling us we are too reliant on primary production, and say "good on ya" to the latest crop of entrepreneurs and business leaders who know New Zealand is a great place to grow a business from.

If I had to summarise all the entries in one word, it would be "diversity".

Yes, we have some impressive entries from large dairy and food companies (I'd be worried if we didn't) and we also have a range of technology, ICT and specialised manufacturing companies.

They are all great stories but to pick out a few to give you a flavour: We had two entries in the area of laser gun technology.

One is the consumer gaming system firm, Delta Strike, that's taking the world by storm using advanced gameplay and systems that players love.

The other is Cubic Defence, a company which creates advanced training systems for soldiers using lasers and virtual reality, and is selling to armed forces around the world.

There is another notable trend. These NZ businesses are following a similar formula for success: Pick a niche, create world-leading products and services, and compete on quality and value, not on price.

That formula works extremely well and allows New Zealand to compete in much bigger markets, against much bigger players, and to grow our businesses even in the down times.

It's the formula that's helping 90 Seconds, the Uber of video production, achieve double-digit growth each month; it's the way NZ Mint is selling precious metal coins engraved with Disney characters globally.

It's the approach behind tech company WhereScape's amazing annual growth in the area of database management software.

As a government agency charged with helping companies grow internationally, it's rewarding to see the growth in NZ's exports despite a downturn in world dairy commodities.

We've been talking about how our primary sector companies need to move up the value chain for long enough that the phrase is almost a cliche, but we are certainly seeing a number of large, traditional companies take that track.

Look at NIG Nutritionals, which launched its branded goat milk powder into the Chinese market, and Tegel which commands premium prices for chicken in the Middle East.

Now it's up to the judges to pick winners from the finalists for all the categories: Best Emerging business (under $10 million in revenue), Best Medium Business ($10m to $50m) and Best Large Business (over $50m), plus a range of specialist categories for design, innovation, operations, Maori business and marketing.

Then we'll be choosing the supreme winner, and the best leadership team.

In this 50th year of celebrating NZ's international business success, we are recognising how far we've come. It's a chance to step back and marvel at new household names like Orion Healthcare and Gallagher Group and their audacity on the world stage.

Our dilemma is not how to diversify our economy; it's how to pick winners from the companies who have already done it.

• NZME is a partner in the New Zealand International Business Awards.

- NZ Herald

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