Building a billionaire

By Joanna Mathers

Once, the range of career choices was prescriptive. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, doctor, lawyer and, for a chosen few, Indian chief. But in the 21st century, there are lucrative new choices: billionaire, rock star, geek, celebrity. So what — and who — inspires young people to such giddy new heights?

Will McTavish with parents Lindsay and Rachael. Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Will McTavish with parents Lindsay and Rachael. Photo / Hagen Hopkins

Sometimes, all you need is one person. One person to inspire you, one person to believe in you, one person who gets where you're at and encourages you to reach your full potential. It could be the old bloke next door with the workshop down the bottom of the garden, the guitar tutor who once played in a band or, most often, your parents.

For Xero founder Rod Drury (winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2013, with an estimated personal wealth of $400 million) that person was a teacher, 30 years ago, at Napier Boys High School. A teacher named Bob McCaw; a man with a vision and a passion for technology, a man who brought computing to life at a boys' school in a small New Zealand city.

"He was a pioneer in his field," says Drury. "He got everyone in my year interested in computers and was a real inspiration for me."

That teacher helped Drury take home his first computer, an Apple II. McCaw facilitated a scheme whereby parents could invest a little money towards purchasing computers that would be available for students to take home.

Rod Drury, founder of Xero. Photo / Michael Craig
Rod Drury, founder of Xero. Photo / Michael Craig

Once armed with his Apple II, Drury's journey to entrepreneurial IT success had begun.

Drury didn't come from an entrepreneurial family. "My parents weren't entrepreneurs, so I think I'm a case study to the contra," he says.

Starting out working on business solutions for Earnst and Young, Drury helped establish leading software development company Glazier Systems, one of the country's first. He launched Xero in 2006; it now has 200,000 customers worldwide, operating revenue of $30.3 million, and offices in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Not bad for a boy from Hawke's Bay.

Drury now has three children and says he isn't forcing technology on to any of them. Instead, he is going to encourage his three primary school-aged children to "follow your passion".

"My philosophy is to support what they are passionate about, and encourage them to practise and strive to be the best they can be - whether it's music, sport or any other area."


Carollyn Chaplin is the executive in residence at Icehouse, a business incubator that encourages bright sparks to succeed in business. As an entrepreneur, she has helped get many start-ups off the ground. Chaplin is a mother of two children - aged 8 and 10 - and believes that kids naturally have an "entrepreneurial" spirit.

"Children are free thinkers, and don't have prejudice about the world. This is gold in an entrepreneurial world."

She says parents can play a major part in nurturing their children's natural talents and helping them to learn the skills needed for success in business. "But more importantly they need to be guided by what their children are passionate about, then encourage them to believe in themselves and their dreams.

"Let your children make decisions, let them learn by their mistakes to ensure they become resilient - and I know as a mother this is sometimes the hardest bit."

Another Kiwi entrepreneur, Chris Morrison, founder of organic drinks company Phoenix, says that involving your kids with your own business can be a natural way in which to nurture their business smarts. His son Reuben Cairns-Morrison has followed in his dad's footsteps, launching a surfing app called sherpasurfguide.com, which helps keen surfers find the best spots in New Zealand to catch a wave.

Morrison says his four children grew up in an environment where business and home life merged seamlessly. "Our children didn't know anything other than Phoenix," he says. "They were all involved in the business, all had hands-on experience. We would talk about the business around the table, discuss ideas. It was a good, living example of how a business works."

Morrison says parents with ambitious kids should try to seek out role models. "Most of us know someone who is in business, and people are always very happy to share their ideas. Try to find someone whose skills are aligned with the child's interests."

He feels that teaching basic business skills to children can also help them in all their future ventures. "Resilience, self-discipline and perseverance are keys to success in business - and can help in all areas of life."


Raising a geek

Who? Will McTavish, 25
What? Founded Link Solutions, which creates Cloud-based apps that link with Xero.

For Will McTavish, a passion for technology runs in the family. "Dad has always loved gadgets and technology," he recalls. "Our first computer was an Acer 486, so we grew up with them."

His dad Lyndsay explains: "He had jobs from about the age of 12 and liked to earn and spend his own money. I told him at this early stage 'If you want to make money, play with money and be creative'."

His son's love of technology was matched by an equally strong passion to make money. "Technology is an obsession of mine," Will explains. "With the right application, I think technology is the solution to many of the world's problems. I think there is more opportunity in the world for young people than ever before and it is with technology."

Will studied accounting at Victoria University, and this, coupled with his interest in technology, provided the basis for Link Solutions. He was also inspired by what he saw Rod Drury doing with Xero. "When I saw Xero emerging as an online accounting system, I knew I wanted to be involved."

McTavish's parents have been very supportive of all his ventures and nurtured him to be successful from an early age. "Dad's attitude was 'You can do anything if you put your mind to it'. Mum told me every night when I was a kid that I was special and that she loved me. So between those influences, I convinced myself at a young age that I was special and I could do anything with my life."

His parents have provided financial support as well. Lyndsay takes up the story: "I supported him as long as he would pass all big decisions past my wife Rachel and me. We also had friends who ran some businesses and were able to offer advice as well. He listened and would offer counter-arguments but eventually we would negotiate a good outcome."

Will has some (rather unexpected) advice for bright young techies with big ambitions who may burn the candle at both ends in front of a computer screen. "Keep up with your sports and hobbies otherwise you burn out. Keeping fit is one of the secrets of being successful. If your body is fit, your mind will be fit."


Raising a millionaire

Who? James McGlinn, 33
What? Co-founder of EventFinda, NZ's largest and most successful event listing site

When James McGlinn was about 8, he saw a busker collecting money - and he was inspired. The little boy got out his flute and made his way down the road.

"He made something like $40 an hour in the lead-up to Christmas," his father Tom says, laughing.

Mum Ann chips in: "This was so successful that afterwards when he wanted to buy anything, he would 'practise' on the street, as a busker."

Ann ran a business as a piano teacher, giving children lessons at the family home, so James had an entrepreneurial role model.

But they taught him more than that. "Since early childhood I have clear memories of both my parents telling me regularly that I could do anything I set my mind to," he says. "Since then they've assisted me financially in starting new ventures, and they've always been there for moral support and advice when I needed it."

The most important lesson his parents taught him was to keep positive even when times were tough. And they encouraged McGlinn's creativity and ambition.

Ann says: "I've always encouraged James to set up in business for himself and to have a back-up plan (university studies) in case there wasn't enough money coming in. I took him to auctions where he bought computer peripherals to sell on, and allowed him to take over our basement rumpus room at age 16 for his first mail-order software business."

So, with a business partner, James founded EventFinda - now the country's biggest event listing site. With monthly traffic of over a quarter of a million dollars, operations in Austria, Australia, Singapore and the US, 18 staff, and an annual revenue of over $1 million a year, it's a built-from-the-ground-up success story.

Both parents have strong ideas about what makes a great entrepreneur. "Entrepreneurs need self-discipline and patience, and an understanding of how people think and what they need or want," says Ann. Being a 'people person' helps, as well as being able to envision and focus on the end result, and having a detailed plan to get there."


Raising a celebrity

Who? Pebbles Hooper, 24
What? Fashion stylist and Auckland A-lister

Pebbles Hooper's mum says it is important for young people in the limelight to have strong parental support. Photo / Greg Bowker
Pebbles Hooper's mum says it is important for young people in the limelight to have strong parental support. Photo / Greg Bowker

Pebbles Hooper grew up in public. As daughter of World fashion designers Denise L'Estrange-Corbet and Francis Hooper, she was always appearing in photo shoots, on screen and at public events.

She never knew her family was "famous".

"I just always knew they didn't have boring jobs like the rest of my friends," Pebbles laughs.

But her mum says they didn't focus on teaching her about "life in the public eye".

"We merely brought her up to be an honest and hardworking individual, which she more than is," says L'Estrange-Corbet.

"Pebbles was given a good education and is well grounded. We were very strict parents. I firmly believe you learn from your mistakes, and we all make them. You have to decide how to react in certain situations and when to just walk away. She was taught however, that there are consequences to everything you do, so to think twice before doing anything stupid.

She has some simple advice for kids in the public eye. "Being thrust into the spotlight suddenly at a young age is pretty daunting, but I can only advise people to be themselves. What you see is what you get, and if they don't like it, they can naff off."

She also says it is important for young people in the limelight to have strong parental support. "Parents of children, or young stars, like Lorde, should be around their children as much as possible. When young people are making a lot of money, they can be surrounded by 'hangers on', and this is part of fame that I despise, as you never really know who your true friends are."

Pebbles agrees: "Regardless of what your child wants to do in life, I think as a parent you just need to support them. It's your job. The support should help them guide themselves."

One of the key messages Denise has given Pebbles is to keep her feet on the ground. "It's important to remain grounded and in contact with people who have proven to be good friends.

"Pebbles is still close to a lot of people she went to primary school with, and I am the same. Friendships that were forged with people who knew you before you were famous are the ones to cherish. As a parent however, you must not stifle your children's creativity, but just advise along the way if you see things are getting out of control."

- Herald on Sunday

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