Business is tough in a global recession but there is still money to be made in New Zealand – and the lifestyle’s not bad either.
Ian McCrea likes to rise early, slip down to Okahu Bay and get out on the Waitemata before he starts work. There, he can work out in his kayak or on his paddleboard a 10-minute drive from home. And at the end of the week, he and his family can spend the weekend at their Waiheke hideaway.
McCrea, Orion Healthcare's CEO, knows that his lifestyle would be hard to replicate if his head office was based overseas.
"Auckland is safe for my kids to walk around town, certainly far safer than American cities."
For a software export company like Orion, New Zealand is an ideal base, even though 90 per cent of its business is overseas. The company employs almost 700 people in 18 offices around the world and last year turned over $100 million.
"We don't pollute the streams, we don't kill the fish," McCrea says. "There are huge untapped opportunities in exporting software. They are weightless products that we can export them just over the internet."
Like others who have built successful businesses in this corner of the world, McCrea thinks this country can be a hothouse for creative, high-value businesses that will propel New Zealand into first-world status. Many of those spoken to for this article believe "making it big" in New Zealand is still within reach, for those who dare to dream global from day one, to disrupt conventional ways of thinking and to risk capital. New Zealand is off the beaten track, but the internet has made the world a flatter place and opportunities for business abound, they say.
"You can build wealth faster these days," says Derek Handley, co-founder of mobile marketing shop Hyperfactory, which he has since sold. He points to Kiwi entrepreneur Victoria Ransom, co-founder of social media start-up Wildfire Interactive, who sold the company to Google for around US$250 million after barely four years.
This speed of wealth generation is faster than any Rich Lister can imagine, Handley says. A new breed of entrepreneurs will fund new waves of start-ups budding out of New Zealand.
"We need to encourage the rock stars of digital technology - either from a capital or knowledge perspective - who will create more Xeros," he says, referring to the financial software company founded by Rod Drury.
Some Kiwis have had to move offshore to be closer to the markets, but those with experience say that's not a bad thing. Business tycoon and philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn, who sold OTS Logistics for just under $500 million last year, spent an "immense" amount of time outside the country. He says he could not have grown his business to its size without going abroad.
Like McCrea, businesswoman Diane Foreman, owner of the Emerald Group, sells globally but sees no reason to move her business base.
Foreman, wealthy enough to live anywhere, chooses to live in Auckland because she's a strong believer in manufacturing in New Zealand and is keen to see more industries using the country's natural resources. She says our high dollar and freight costs to distant markets make it hard for manufacturers.
At its East Tamaki factory, Emerald Foods churns out between 15 million and 18 million litres of ice cream a year in various brands, including New Zealand Natural, which sells in hundreds of outlets in 21 countries. She says that, although New Zealand's geographical isolation is its most difficult feature, its sophisticated market makes it a great product test-bed.
World Bank figures show that we have a high number of enterprises per capita, OECD statistics put us in the bottom rank in terms of how fast our small- and medium-scale enterprises grow: 90 per cent of businesses still employ fewer than five people.
Icebreaker clothing company founder Jeremy Moon warns that, as we mark out territory in the global village, business people need a clear vision of how their company should unfold.
"If you have a vision based on New Zealand, your business will be limited to New Zealand," says Moon, who spent months writing his global business plan before starting his company. To become global, you have to think global from day one: think product differentiation, think brand; think value - not volume, he says.
Michael Carden, chief executive of performance-management software maker CSB (previously Sonar6), says the capital constraints faced by companies operating in New Zealand are a real barrier to growth.
Will Rouse, chief executive of Simcro which makes animal-drenching products, agrees. He says we need to rethink our policy on savings, to create more depth in the local capital market.
Owen Glenn would like to see financial syndicates established to enable New Zealand businesses to retain ownership, partial if necessary. But it's not all about business, he says.
"My reason for being a proud Kiwi extends well beyond business, it's the very fabric of our psyche - our friendliness, our integrity and our wish to be good neighbours."
Expatriate Kiwi and billionaire businessman Eric Watson has faith in the potential he sees during regular visits home from his London base.
"Auckland can be for New Zealand what London is for the UK - a massive contributor in economic and cultural terms."
"There is something very special about being a New Zealander, it is something to be proud of. When I step off that plane each time, it definitely feels like I am home."
Yoke Har Lee-Woolf, currently a freelance writer based in Auckland, is a former Business Herald journalist.