Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

World Class NZ Awards: Tall poppies on world stage have day in sun

Elite awards celebrate handful of high-achieving New Zealanders.

Five internationally successful New Zealanders have been celebrated for advancing their country's reputation on the world stage, at an elite ceremony in Auckland last night.

The Kiwis, and one "friend of New Zealand", were honoured at the 2014 World Class New Zealand Awards, where digital entrepreneur Claudia Batten was named the youngest ever Supreme Award winner.

Ms Batten, 39, stood out as not only a serial entrepreneur but also for her "degree of engagement" in supporting other Kiwis in the start-up scene, according to one of the judges, Phil Veal.

"She'd achieved a remarkable measure of success but she had actively in the last several years been engaged in giving back to New Zealand," Mr Veal said.

Colorado-based Ms Batten, who began her career in commercial law, was a founding member of two highly successful entrepreneurial ventures.

"I made a choice early in my career to deviate from the linear and safe, to instead follow what I call the squiggly path to an uncertain future. Great networks are what have allowed me to take that path with great success," she says.

Others recognised included Andrew Adamson, director of the animated box office hit Shrek, who flew from Russia to receive his award for services to the creative sector.

Multi-millionaire Wellington businessman-turned-investor Neville Jordan accepted his award for services to business and investment.

Surgical robotics technologist Dr Catherine Mohr was recognised for her global impact on life sciences and renowned surgical oncologist Dr Murray Brennan was awarded for his contributions to research.

World Class New Zealand also acknowledged the substantial impact American technology entrepreneur and Kiwi Landing Pad director Craig Elliott has had on New Zealand's standing in America's tech world, announcing him this year's Friend of New Zealand.

The awards, established by Kea (Kiwi Expatriates Association) New Zealand in 2003, include among past winners former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Don McKinnon, fashion entrepreneur Peri Drysdale and physicist Sir Paul Callaghan, who was recognised posthumously in 2012.

Kea New Zealand global chief executive Craig Donaldson said last night's winners were saluted for taking flight and creating global success against all odds.

"Their success has been earned in workplaces far less glamorous than the world-famous sports fields and concert stages but their contribution to our country is immense and should be widely promoted to inspire others to dream big."

Mr Donaldson said the awards played a vital role in recognising "tall poppies", particularly when New Zealanders were not confident at promoting their successes.

"There are so many amazing Kiwis around the world who have done world-class things but none of us have heard about them."

This year's judges included Sir Tipene O'Regan, Professor Margaret Brimble, Dr Craig Nevill-Manning, Peri Drysdale, Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas and Jon Mayson.

Q & A The Herald asked the six winners the same set of questions:

1. Was there a specific moment or turning point that helped launch your career? What drove you to make the choices you made?
2. In your opinion, is there something special that sets Kiwis apart or helps Kiwis succeed on the world stage?
3. What can New Zealanders do better to improve their chances of success overseas?
4. Which one New Zealander do you feel epitomises the Kiwi attitude to success and why?
5. What does being a World Class New Zealander mean to you?
6. Sum up your career in 10 words or less.

For services to research and scholarship: Dr Murray Brennan

• A surgeon based in New York, Dr Brennan's clinical trials have produced major findings in the management of patients with soft tissue sarcomas and pancreatic cancer

• He has helped create the world's largest database of sarcoma patients and developed a computer program predicting patients' chances of surviving soft tissue sarcoma

• The program may help doctors better design treatment so patients at greatest risk of recurrence can be treated more aggressively, while patients at low risk can avoid unnecessary treatment.

Answers

1. I made sure to take the opportunities that arose in my career, and always looked to progress by taking multiple single steps and every step, whether it was a success or a failure, was a learning experience.

2. New Zealanders are fortunate to have early equality of opportunity to some degree, so there are fewer barriers to the notion that if you can dream it, you can do it. While it can be a blessing and a burden, I also think we can be aided by our tendency not to take ourselves too seriously.

3. Having your own vision is important, but equally so is the ability to see the world through someone else's eyes and see the opportunities that they see. It may be a given, but hard work isn't just an important factor in success, it's inevitable.

4. For me, it's Sir Edmund Hilary. His endeavours were proof to a nation that we make our own success, but to overcome the biggest obstacles we should know never to go it alone.

5. A deep feeling of gratitude. While I have been recognised in other parts of the world for my work, to be honoured with this award here in New Zealand by such an esteemed group of judges is a special milestone.

6. Otago education, serendipity, hard work, tenacity, vision, next generation investment.

For services to life science: Dr Catherine Mohr

• Senior director of medical research at US company Intuitive Surgical where she oversees development of next-generation surgical robots and robotic procedures for the da Vinci Surgical Robotic system

• Works at Stanford's School of Medicine, studying simulation-based teaching methods to teach clinical skills to budding doctors

• Previously worked as product engineering manager at AeroVironment helping build cars for Switzerland's Tour de Sol and Australia's first World Solar Challenge.

Answers

1. I've always been a scientist/engineer at heart, but I had an epiphany when seeing surgeons and engineers unable to communicate with a common language when they were discussing what went wrong with a device they had designed. I knew I needed to be a part of bridging that gap, and moving the dialogue forward.

2. There is a fearlessness with which Kiwis launch themselves into problems that is marvellous. No problem is too complex, or amount of work too great to undertake if the goal is important enough. This certainly leads Kiwis to have an outsized presence on the international stage.

3. Our greatest strengths are often the source of vulnerabilities as well. The very dauntless attitude that leads Kiwis to take on anything, can lead to a tendency to reinvent when it might be better to adapt, or to change what is there currently, when it may be better to simply move forward.

4. Sir Edmund Hillary. He took on a huge challenge in a smart, resourceful and tenacious way. He was not bound by tradition in his gear or his techniques, and after he succeeded, he used that success to draw attention to causes that he felt were important and to continue to give back to the world.

5. As a New Zealander who largely grew up away from New Zealand, being a Kiwi has always been an anchor of my identity. I felt great pride to be a part of this community. It is an incredible honour to be receiving this award. It is like being welcomed home.

6. Finding ways to use technology to improve the human condition.

For services to investment and business: Neville Jordan

• Founded microwave telecommunications company MAS Technology 1975

• Built it into a $100 million-a-year company with 240 staff, offices in 15 countries and exporting to 60.

• Executive chairman of Endeavour Capital, which he started in 1998.

Answers

1. My choice of career was triggered by failure to make an atomic bomb at age 12. I was clearly not going to be a nuclear physicist but an electronics engineering degree from Canterbury University was a great basis for my future.

2. Kiwis are very adaptable and creative - this prepares them for the world stage. Whether they succeed there or not is a different matter.

3. Understand their place in the world and behave as a world citizen.

4. Sir Ernest Rutherford first to show the structure of the atom and the first New Zealander to gain a peerage. He was also the first to produce astonishing science and technology results by developing high-performance teams around him. Prior to this, science was often conducted by gifted individuals.

5. It provides a quiet space within; to reflect on and about all those who have helped me along the way.

6. Vision, courage and stamina.

• Supreme Award: Claudia Batten

Founding member of Massive Incorporated, a network for advertising in video games

• It was bought in 2006 by Microsoft, where she spent three years scaling the in-game network

• Co-founded Victors & Spoils in 2009, the first advertising agency built on the principles of crowdsourcing V&S was majority acquired by French firm Havas in 2011.

Answers

1. There were definitely times when I looked around the firm I was in and realised I didn't want to stay on the law path. Instead, I made a decision to dare greatly, to step off the linear traditional career ladder a path of certainty and progressive, measured steps and instead to follow the squiggly path to an uncertain future.

2. We are very tenacious, hardworking and innovative people. We are a nation of immigrants who chose to get on boats, risk everything and sail halfway around the world in search of a better life. My heroes are people like Sir Peter Blake, Sir Peter Jackson, Rod Drury, Rebecca Taylor, Lorde.

People who see the opportunity to not only succeed internationally but take on international forces and say "Why can't I be a player?".

3. We have to realise that when we step on to the world stage there is another code, another set of rules, and learn them. I think we can be a little naive; a little too "smell of the oily rag".

4. Maybe it's human nature to want to hear about soap stars and athletes. I find it repetitive and uninspired. We should talk about the Sarah Robb O'Hagans, Victoria Ransoms, Greg Crosses, Jonty Kelts and Guy Horrocks a lot more than we do every one of them pushing boundaries and setting new standards internationally.

5. As Kiwis on the world stage we have an obligation to represent all the positives that people associate with New Zealanders and then take it to another level. We need to be out there setting the groundwork so that others can have a slightly less bumpy road as they come in behind us.

6. A squiggly line!

Friend of New Zealand: Craig Elliott

• Co-founded and is CEO of Pertino Networks, a cloud networking software company based in Silicon Valley

• Strategic Adviser at NZTE and board director at Kiwi Landing Pad, helping New Zealand technology companies enter US markets

• Previous CEO of Packeteer, taking the company from three staff to more than 200 when it went public in 1999 valued at $2 billion.

Answers

1. The day Steve Jobs gave me a Porsche. In 1985, just out of university, I sold the most Macintoshes in the US, winning an Apple sales contest and a trip to California for dinner with Steve Jobs. Three months later, Apple invited me to work for them.

2. Kiwis are innovative and tenacious, two qualities necessary for competing on the world stage. Last summer we brought three NZ computer science students over to work at my company, and each demonstrated these characteristics. They jumped in, latched on to difficult projects and exceeded all expectations.

3. New Zealanders should not be afraid to raise their hands and tell the world about their good ideas.

4. I recently read Ernest Rutherford's biography, and he was an amazing Kiwi. His innovative thought experiments in nuclear physics proved concepts that went against widely accepted science and he had the tenacity to fight for his ideas.

5. Being an "American" World Class New Zealander allows me to help more New Zealand entrepreneurs and serve as their network into Silicon Valley. Any way I can bring attention to the innovation in New Zealand is fantastic and I'm honoured to be able to help.

6. Farm boy turned high tech CEO/fly fisherman.

For services to film and creative: Andrew Adamson

• Film director, producer and screenwriter based in Los Angeles

• Directed animated films Shrek and Shrek 2, and received an Academy Award nomination

• Was director, executive producer, and scriptwriter for CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and sequel Prince Caspian.

1. Agreeing to a trial period on Shrek. I was on the threshold of going to Portugal to live on the beach and write a small film when the opportunity to direct Shrek came up. I turned it down for months before agreeing to a three-month trial that became 4 years.

2. New Zealand is a long way away from the rest of the world which has tended to make us a nation of innovators. We haven't had access to some of what's available elsewhere so we've had to figure out how to make do. I believe that's bred a nation of innovative, independent thinkers.

3. In the screen industry, we can look at creating material that is more competitive with what we're importing. I don't suggest losing our cultural identity, but if we want a broader reach we need to be aware of the limited size of the audience that relates to that identity.

4. Sir Edmund Hilary has always been an inspiration. He had that kind of modest "can do" attitude that Kiwis are somewhat known for. He didn't let anyone tell him he couldn't do something.

5. It's nice to have an award that recognises the work of New Zealanders overseas. I've tended to work on things that have high exposure, so I appreciate this as an acknowledgement of my national identity rather than of the work itself.

6. A roller coaster ride with many of my best friends.

- NZ Herald

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